In March of 2014, a nail-salon worker in Florida filed a complaint against her boss with the office of the state’s Republican attorney general, Pam Bondi. The salon worker, who wished to remain anonymous in this article for fear of retaliation by her former employer, told me that she had started at the salon the previous November and that, in addition to a variety of workplace abuses, her boss refused to pay his employees the state’s minimum wage, which was then $7.93 an hour.
In her complaint to Bondi’s office, the worker described an alarming set of alleged offenses. “They make us work a minimum of 40 hrs a week and sometimes remove our rights for breaks, yet only pay straight commission,” said the worker’s complaint, which was submitted to Bondi’s office by e-mail. “There are weeks where some of us have had to work 45 hrs+ and only had a check for $10.00—$50.00. [T]hey threaten if we even ask about minimum wage.” The complaint added that “many of the girls are scared to say the wrong thing yet dont have enough money to feed their families.”
The salon employee, who, along with her husband, was working to raise an autistic child, hoped that Bondi’s office would help her get the money that she was owed for her months of salon work. But the worker heard nothing from Bondi’s office in response to the complaint, she said, even after multiple follow-ups. “I made two or three calls, and after a few months passed, I assumed they weren’t going to do anything,” the worker told me, “so I dropped it.”
To the salon worker—who estimated she was owed some $2,000 in back wages for several months of work—Florida’s top cop for labor violations appeared to be off duty.
In most states, the attorney general would not be the first place a desperate worker might turn, but in Florida, the office is both the first and last line of defense for exploited workers. After Jeb Bush dismantled Florida’s Department of Labor in the early 2000s—he justified it as a cost-saving measure—the Republicans in the state named the attorney general’s office as the main government agency responsible for enforcing the state’s minimum wage. But what the worker did not know is that Pam Bondi is a politician who has voiced fierce opposition to strong minimum-wage laws and has close ties to organizations that have aggressively lobbied against laws to protect workers from theft.
In recent months, Bondi has repeatedly made national headlines. In March, she became one of the highest-profile politicians to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Bondi’s endorsement tipped off allegations that she had, in 2013, declined to sue Trump University for fraudulent business practices after personally soliciting and securing a hefty political contribution from Trump himself. More recently, in the wake of the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, Bondi has been on the defensive about her office’s anti-gay posture throughout her tenure as attorney general.