Workers march in front of a Miami-Dade courthouse under construction to protest stolen pay. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
If the Florida House Republicans have their way, here is what the state’s workers would stand to lose: paid sick leave, a living wage, wage theft protections and equal opportunity benefits (for same sex couples, for example).
That’s because an assortment of bills—including one introduced by House Majority Leader Stephen Precourt that would nullify nearly all of these pro-worker policies—would pre-empt local ordinances and leave it up to the state to implement (or not) any of these measures. Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm writes that these bills were “ghost written by special-interest lobbyists.”
It would mean the end of the fourteen-year-old Miami-Dade County living wage ordinance. A new anti-wage theft law that passed just last month in Alachua County would be nixed. The paid sick leave initiative that 52,000 Orange County residents got onto the ballot for 2014—gone.
“What makes it all even more ridiculous is that we have no state-level Department of Labor,” said Jeanette Smith, director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice (SFIWJ). “So even if the legislature did pass any worker protection laws—which they aren’t—who is going to enforce them? All they are doing is lessening the rights that are currently there for workers.”
The timing of this smackdown on working Floridians couldn’t be worse. A new report from the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University indicates that more than 23 percent of the state’s residents live in poverty, with children 1.5 times more likely than adults to live below the poverty line of approximately $23,000 for a family of four.
How this all plays out in the legislature is still up in the air and might be determined today—the last day of the session. Bill authors have carved out exceptions to the wage theft pre-emption for Miami-Dade (which has recovered $600,000 in lost pay since 2010) and Broward counties, but not for Alachua County. This is especially strange since the companion bill in the Senate was introduced by freshman Senator Rob Bradley, who represents Alachua. Smith said that the Alachua County Commissioners and their staff have spoken out against the pre-emption—even in Senate hearings—but Bradley hasn’t backed down.
“I’m sure he’s representing someone in Alachua but it’s apparently not the county or the workers,” said Smith.
If Bradley’s bill clears the Senate, the pre-emption of local wage theft laws is a done deal—and that’s a big deal, because prior to the county ordinances, workers effectively had no place to turn for help.