County may soon have way employees can resolve pay disputes


Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 9:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 9:42 p.m.

A former employee who never receives her final paycheck or a waiter who is regularly asked to work off-the-clock may feel like there’s no one to turn to for help. The money they’re owed, but haven’t received, never appears.

But Miami-Dade and Broward counties have created a new way for such workers to air their grievances and, if their claims are valid, finally get paid.

Alachua County may soon follow suit.

The County Commission is considering the adoption of a wage theft ordinance, which would establish a procedure through which its staff would help mediate disputes between employees and their employers over pay.

Commissioners will revisit the issue during their Tuesday meeting at the County Administration Building, located at 12 SE First St.

This proposal is championed by the Alachua County Wage Theft Task Force, a local coalition that has garnered endorsements from area businesses and other organizations as well as from religious and political leaders.

In Alachua County, over 2,000 wage theft violations were reported between 2000 and 2010, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division cited by the task force. There were probably many more because cases often go unreported.

Jeremiah Tattersall, a task force member, said it makes sense to take wage problems to the county rather than a higher level of government. “These are the people that listen to us,” he said of county commissioners.

The county likely would model its ordinance on the one enacted in 2010 by Miami-Dade County. In that program, the government receives employee complaints and then contacts the involved employers. Most financial disputes are settled during the conciliation phase, although some cases proceed to a hearing.

A majority of the County Commission — Commissioners Mike Byerly, Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV and Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson — has already endorsed the push for a local wage theft ordinance, according to the task force’s website.

Commissioner Susan Baird pointed out that there are already wage laws on the books and ways to enforce them in place. She said she hasn’t seen evidence that wage theft is a large enough problem in the county to warrant adding more regulations, especially for a community that is already so progressive.

But she will keep listening and considering the issue as the commission’s discussions on wage theft proceed, she said.

Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe and City Commissioners Susan Bottcher, Yvonne Hinson-Rawls, Lauren Poe and Randy Wells also have endorsed the idea of enacting a local ordinance.

The Gainesville City Commission voted 4-1 to support the concept of a wage theft ordinance at its Thursday meeting, with Commissioner Todd Chase in dissent because he hadn’t met with the task force yet to learn more about it. Commissioners Thomas Hawkins and Hinson-Rawls were absent from the vote.

The City Commission’s support will be vital because, according to a memo from County Attorney Dave Wagner, it could enact an opposing ordinance nullifying any wage theft measure that the county implements within the Gainesville city limits. The support of city commissions for the county’s other municipalities, likewise, will be needed to bolster the effectiveness of a countywide ordinance.

Wagner recommended the county secure the consent of its municipalities’ respective city commissions to abide by a wage theft measure before the county applies it within their jurisdictions, according to the memo. To do so, the city commissions can either adopt a motion or resolution or approve an interlocal agreement with the county giving it the authority to enforce the ordinance within the city.

The County Commission previously discussed a potential ordinance in January and will have to consider it again following Tuesday’s meeting since it doesn’t yet have a draft ordinance on which to vote.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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