County, State Sen. Bradley at odds over wage theft law


Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 9:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 9:23 p.m.

Wage theft has driven a wedge between the Alachua County Commission and state Sen. Rob Bradley, a freshman member of the county's legislative delegation, as commissioners call for home rule while Bradley pushes for a statewide solution.

At the start of his first term in the Florida Senate, Bradley, R-Orange Park, filed a bill that would direct workers seeking to recover unpaid wages throughout the Sunshine State to small claims court.

It would pre-empt county wage-theft ordinances across Florida that handle worker-employer disputes through hearing officers if necessary. It includes an exemption for Miami-Dade County, which was the first county in the state to enact a wage-theft ordinance, but not for Broward or Alachua counties, which have since approved their own wage-theft laws.

"It's the pre-emption that we're against, but we also think having a hearing officer as part of the process is important," said Mark Sexton, the county's communications coordinator.

Wage theft includes being paid below minimum wage or having to work off the clock.

When Bradley filed the bill in late February, a local coalition known as the Alachua County Wage Theft Task Force was already working with the Alachua County Commission and gathering support among local businesses and residents for the kind of ordinance that Bradley's measure would prohibit.

"He's the senator for Alachua County, and he's trying to pre-empt local democracy," task force member Jeremiah Tattersall said in a recent press conference.

The Sun made multiple attempts to interview Bradley, but calls were not returned in time for publication.

The task force first presented its case for a wage-theft measure to the commission in January, and county staff began preparing a draft ordinance at the board's request in March. This month, Alachua County became the third county in the state to pass a wage-theft ordinance when the commission approved it in a 3-2 vote. The measure sends cases to a hearing officer if the county's initial mediation fails.

Now, Bradley's bill threatens an Alachua County ordinance that is planned to take effect in January of next year.

The commission unanimously voted to send its legislative delegation, among others, a letter expressing its opposition to pre-empting counties from enacting wage-theft ordinances. To the county, it would infringe upon home rule, commissioners say.

"We all agree we ought to do this ourselves," Commissioner Mike Byerly said. "This is an appropriate local government issue."

Even if the board had voted down the wage-theft ordinance, its handling of this issue shouldn't be constrained by the state, Byerly said. Bradley doesn't represent the people of Alachua County in the same way county commissioners do, Byerly said, and the board is most familiar with the desires of its citizens in this situation.

Local governments should decide how to handle local wage-theft disputes, not the state, according to Byerly. "Goodness knows, they have enough on their plate," he said.

In a previous interview with The Sun, Bradley said his goal is to establish a uniform process for handling wage-theft complaints across county lines rather than allow a patchwork of local ordinances to be enacted.

The local task force is working with allied organizations throughout the state to make its opposition to Bradley's bill clear to politicians in Tallahassee, Tattersall said. The groups plan to have people in the state capital every day visiting Bradley's office and talking to other senators about their concerns.

The task force and others are making about 60 calls a day to Bradley's office to voice their opposition, he said.

Bradley's bill has passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Its counterpart measure in the Florida House is headed to the House floor.

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

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