Bradley's wage-theft bill not entirely in sync with county


Published: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 6:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 6:26 p.m.

State Sen. Rob Bradley has made amendments to his wage-theft bill in response to his discussions with Alachua County staff and others, but Bradley and the county still disagree over a home-rule issue at the heart of the measure.

Bradley's bill, SB 1216, would create a statewide system in Florida for handling wage theft but would pre-empt related ordinances at the local level. It passed its first Senate committee — the Senate Criminal Justice Committee — this week. A companion bill in the House got its first reading in committee this week.

The measure would funnel wage-theft cases into small claims courts throughout the state.

Common forms of wage theft include getting shorted hours on a paycheck or being forced to do off-the-clock work.

Alachua County may adopt a wage-theft ordinance that would allow it to mediate employer-employee disputes and, if that fails, allow a hearing officer to make a decision. Bradley's bill wouldn't allow it to rely on a hearing officer.

Before his bill passed the Senate committee, Bradley made a handful of amendments based on his conversations with Alachua County Wage Theft Task Force member Jeremiah Tattersall, county staff and County Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson. Alachua County is part of Bradley's district.

The initial bill required an employee provide written notice of his or her wage-theft claim to an employer, but it now permits workers to provide written or verbal notice.

Bradley also lowered an employer's timeframe for resolving the claim after notification from 15 to seven days and capped employees' court filing fees at $50.

Bradley also changed the bill to permit workers to receive up to twice the wages they're owed if they win in court, which is more than the measure initially permitted.

"The changes that I've made to the bill are meant to make it easier for a worker to recover wages," he said.

Mark Sexton, communications coordinator for the county, said the county appreciates Bradley's openness to their input and the improvements he has made.

However, it still opposes the overall measure because it pre-empts local governments from adopting ordinances that differ from Bradley's court-centric approach.

Bradley said an important goal of this legislation is to create a uniform, statewide system for handling wage theft rather than allow Florida's 67 counties to all enact individual programs.

Sexton questioned the need to prevent a patchwork of wage-theft ordinances across Florida since frivolous claims don't appear to be a problem.

"You're worried about a patchwork of ordinances, but the fact is it's wage theft itself that is the issue," he said. "So local governments aren't really concerned that people have to deal with different ordinances. They can not deal with any of those ordinances by paying their workers."

Even if Bradley's bill used the hearing officer method Alachua County may adopt, Sexton said the county would oppose it because it would pre-empt local governments from providing local solutions to wage theft. The County Commission values the principle of home rule.

Tattersall, a local task force member, has discussed the bill with Bradley. He said the senator has been open to changing it, but only to a certain point.

Tattersall agrees with Bradley that his bill would give almost all Florida counties a better way to deal with wage theft than they have now but emphasized that county governments that want to implement an ordinance they consider more effective should be allowed to do so.

Bradley's bill has two more committee stops before it reaches the Senate floor.

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

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