Over the past two years, workers have made impressive advances in about a half dozen states to protect themselves and their livelihoods from unscrupulous employers. But conservatives are increasingly mobilizing to undo these gains. Two separate efforts within the past month alone would make it harder for workers to recover stolen wages from employers — completely ignoring overwhelming public support  for labor standards that safeguard workers’ rights and narrowly safeguarding the interests of the 1%.
Anti-wage theft legislation has enjoyed growing momentum as awareness of the problem — in which employers brazenly underpay workers or withhold wages altogether — increases and its larger effects on family stability and state economies are felt. In response to a historic ordinance passed in Miami-Dade county in Florida last year which created a process for workers to recover stolen wages, a bill was filed last week that would prohibit state municipalities from “adopting or maintaining” local ordinances to address wage theft and effectively do away with the new law. The bill  is similar to one introduced earlier this year, and both have received significant input and support from the Florida Retail Federation, a business lobbying group. According to  Samantha Hunter Padgett, deputy general counsel for the group, the organization “submitted [their] ideas” to bill sponsor State Sen. David Simmons, providing “the first suggestions and our input” on this year’s legislation. The Florida Retail Federation has also filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade’s anti-wage theft ordinance — which was the first of its kind in the country — despite the fact that thousands  of wage theft violations have been filed in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties alone.
In New York, state residents are also holding the line against a more covert attempt by the New York City Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) to roll back 2010’s pivotal Wage Theft Protection Act, which took effect in April and dramatically improved the state’s anti-wage theft statutes. REDC’s proposal, which was unveiled  at its Oct. 25 meeting, would recommend that small businesses be exempted from the law’s jurisdiction. Considering that small businesses comprise 98%  of all business in New York and employ over half of the state’s private sector workforce, the move would cripple the new law and, in essence, allow give them the green light to undercut their competitors at workers’ expense.
The Florida Retail Federation defends its efforts by reiterating  the tired, conservative line that anti-wage theft provisions are simply an unnecessary, costly layer of regulation. What they fail to mention is that law-abiding businesses have nothing to fear from increased penalties and enforcement. At a time when millions of workers are teetering on the edge of the middle class and every dollar is needed to bolster their economic security, it is unconscionable that businesses would try to defend their right to steal from their employees.
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