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Struggle over wage theft ordinance continues in Florida

By staff |
March 6, 2013
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Gainesville, FL - The Alachua County Wage Theft Task Force has been working to stop wage theft in Alachua Coutny, Florida for the past year. Wage theft, or the stealing of earned wages, has increased during the economic downturn. Wage theft is responsible for stealing at least $30 billion a year from American workers. This crisis affects poor and immigrant communities the most, with over 60% of low-wage workers reporting theft of their wages each week. As a result, low-wage workers lose about 15% of their earnings each year to the bosses.

There are laws on the books that are meant to protect workers from wage theft, but the corporate rule in America makes sure that the enforcement is criminally lax.

“What we have are laws without enforcement,” said Jeremiah Tattersall in a presentation to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners on Jan. 8.

Today there are few federal investigators and to investigate cases of wage theft than there were in 1941. For the state of Florida there are only six investigators, amounting to one investigator per 1.2 million workers. This means that Florida's ability to deal with wage theft is six times worse than the national average.

“This problem is further compounded because Florida is one of two states without a state department of labor,” said Tattersall.

Due to the lax enforcement, wage theft has become a major problem, which led to the formation of the Alachua County Wage Theft Task Force. The organizers have been working to bring enforcement to the county level through an ordinance.

“If the federal and state governments are going to abandon working people, we’ll just have to take it upon ourselves to organize,” said Fernando Figueroa of the task force.

With the backing of hundreds of workers, accompanied by dozens of faith leaders and local businesses, the task force has successfully started the process of bringing this ordinance to Alachua County.

But progressive causes always catch the eye of reactionary politicians and their corporate backers. The Florida Retail Federation, a corporate lobbying group led by Wal-Mart, Macy's and others, has cited the work of the task force as a reason to ‘preempt’ ordinances like the one being sought in Alachua County. A bill has been introduced in the state capitol that would prevent these protections to working people and give another boost in profits to big businesses.

“This is how ‘democracy’ works in Florida,” Tattersall said. “You have organizers that fight for change and big business that try to undo it.”

The Task Force is expecting an ordinance to be voted on by April and will continue protesting the anti-democratic bills.