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Protect workers from the wage-theft epidemic


Businesses and workers have an explicit agreement: If an employee works a certain amount of hours for the company, they are guaranteed a certain salary. While workers are seriously disciplined and even fired for not performing as expected on the job, businesses in Florida are let off the hook when they fail to compensate their employees for their work.

When businesses renege on their obligations to workers by failing to pay workers for overtime or pay their workers below their contract rate, that is called wage theft. Businesses are using low-wage employees’ work to garner profits and then turning around and stealing money from those same workers by refusing to pay them what they’ve earned.

Latinos disproportionately share the burden of wage theft. Regardless of legal status, Latinos are often threatened by their employers with calls to Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they ask to be paid for the work they’ve completed. Businesses and contractors feel that they can take advantage of immigrant fear mongering to scare low-wage workers into keeping silent about the company’s illegal withholding of payments to its workers.

Florida can do more to protect all workers, no matter their race or legal status, by strengthening protections for whistle blowers who alert authorities to a business’ illegal wage practices. Common sense steps like these are easily implemented and would have a profound impact on the ability of workers to seek compensation for businesses’ failures to pay appropriate wages.

Wage theft is a problem that crosses race, politics and religion, but it is of particular concern to women. Women make up the majority of tipped workers, who are a large portion of wage theft victims, and almost a third of those are the sole parent supporting a child. When businesses fail to meet their payment obligations to their staff, they not only hurt individual workers, they steal food from the family table and school supplies from students’ backpacks. As women increasingly take on the role of breadwinner, they need to have the confidence that they can count on their employers to follow through on their commitment to compensate workers according to contractual obligations and state law.

State legislatures can do more than ensure better enforcement of current laws, they can be the catalyst for a solution to the wage theft epidemic. Protecting workers from this type of action not only allows them to hold businesses accountable when they are cheated out of their wages, but prevent possible violations from occurring in the first place. Florida’s citizens believe in the value of an honest day’s work meaning an honest day’s pay and we should uphold those values by ensuring we have laws that protect working families.

Dwight Bullard, state senator, Miami

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