St. Petersburg Officials Talk About City’s Wage Theft Ordinance

news4St. Petersburg Officials Talk About City’s Wage Theft Ordinance

Mayor Rick Kriseman joined city Councilwoman Darden Rice’s push to enact an ordinance to protect workers from wage theft at a City Hall news conference Tuesday.

Kriseman, pointing to the City Council’s scheduled vote on the ordinance Thursday, called it a chance “to look out for those who don’t work for the city of St. Petersburg, but are victims of what we don’t want to happen in our city – wage theft.

The mayor mentioned the ordinance in a list of actions his administration has taken on behalf of city employees, including increasing the minimum wage to $12.59 per hour and providing paid parental leave time.

Kriseman, Rice, council Chairman Charlie Gerdes and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch attended the news conference on the City Hall steps.

Rice began the push for the wage theft ordinance earlier this year. It is modeled after one in Miami-Dade that has helped recover $3.8 million in unpaid wages for employees and has survived a court challenge since passing in 2010.

The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance in the first vote two weeks ago.

“It sends the right kind of message about our values as a city,” Rice said.

Welch, who has followed Rice’s lead, said the county attorney and county administrator are reviewing the St. Petersburg and the Miami-Dade ordinances. He expects the county commission to have a work session soon to consider an ordinance that would cover the entire county.

Rice said the city and county ordinance could complement each other, but the city would continue to handle workers’ complaints. Hillsborough County also is working on a wage theft ordinance.

Pinellas landed fourth on a list of counties with the highest incidents of wage theft in the state, behind Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Broward, in a 2012 study by Florida International University in Miami.

Kriseman and Rice said the St. Petersburg ordinance not only protects workers, but employers who must compete with businesses that pay illegally-low wages. Kriseman said he has heard no complaints from the business community.

“I think businesses want to compete on a level playing field,” he said. Additionally, he said they realize that most of the money they pay in wages comes back into the local economy, especially with low-wage workers who often are victimized.

Rice said 15,000 wage theft reports were reported in Pinellas from 2012-14, amounting to about $7.5 million in lost wages. However, since the state dismantled its Department of Labor in 2000, there has been no place for workers to pursue claims. Most of the wage theft cases aren’t covered by federal labor laws, or the victims lack either the knowledge or resources to go after employers in court.

“There is very limited capacity to respond to wage theft,” Rice said.

The city’s ordinance would create an office to take employee wage complaints, a position Rice said would cost about $75,000 a year. Employees who are owed at least $60 would have one year to file a complaint and must be able to prove they worked the hours.

The city office would contact the employers seeking payment. If an employer fails to pay or does not respond, the case would be referred to a hearing officer. Should the employer lose the case, it would be liable to pay the back wages, plus two times that amount in penalties, along with administrative fees to the city, Rice said.

Wage theft includes people being force to work “off the clock,” not being paid for overtime work, or not being paid at all, which is more common with undocumented workers. Low-wage workers are especially hard hit. Typically, they are day laborers or work in hotels, restaurants, health care facilities or in and construction and lawn service businesses, although Rice said Thursday that higher wage earners are affected as well.

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Article By: Steven Girardi, Visit: www.tbo.com