Lawmakers stage assault on workers, home rule

 

Wage-theft and living-wage laws on the books in Miami-Dade and other counties in the state, once again, are under attack in the state Legislature.

On Feb. 27, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Alachua, filed Senate Bill 1216, which would preempt local wage-theft ordinances passed by county governments and insist that employees can go to court to get only the wages that their employers have withheld. Workers would have to give employers written notice that they intend to pursue their unpaid wages.

No doubt, an employer already knows that he hasn't paid an employee; he shouldn't need to be notified that the employee intends to pursue his wages.

Florida Retail Federation (FRF) has made it clear that it plans to win on the issue this year. This and other organizations also support House Bill 655, filed by Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando. It would preempt local living-wage ordinances including those in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The bill, if successful, would allow political subdivisions to legislate benefits and wages for their own employees only and would no longer allow them to do so for businesses that contract with the county, essentially gutting our living-wage ordinance.

In addition, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, has filed an earned sick-time preemption bill to prevent efforts in Miami-Dade and Orange counties from moving forward. His bill, SB 726, patterns itself after the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act by allowing five unpaid days of sick leave after working for one year and 1,250 hours. The bill requires a doctor's note and states that there will be no retribution for using the days. However, since Florida is a right-to-work state, it will be hard to prevent an employer’s retribution, and it is not addressed in the bill.

Further, it is unlikely that workers who do not currently have paid or unpaid sick time have insurance. Even attaining a doctor's note could prove unwieldy.

Floridians should be shocked at state lawmakers’ attempt to erode local government policies with these aggressive attacks on workers. I hope that the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida League of Cities and our local officials speak up against these efforts. I also hope that our own legislative delegation would not accept these attacks on our home rule. It's disturbing that preemption has become a tool of choice for certain state legislators who appear to be acting on the behest of business lobbies.

Jeanette Smith, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, Miami

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