Florida Minimum Wage to Go Up June 1: Wage Theft Concerns on the Horizon

TALLAHASSEE – As a result of a lawsuit, Florida’s minimum wage will increase from $7.25 to $7.31 per hour effective June 1st. The successful Constitutional challenge, filed by the National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services, sought to correct an error in the method used by the Agency for Workforce Innovation in calculating how the minimum wage rate would be adjusted for inflation. For tipped workers the resulting increase will be from $4.23 to $4.29 per hour.

The lawsuit came about because the State of Florida refused to increase the minimum wage on January 1st to reflect an increase in the cost-of-living, as required by law. “This will result in over $28 million more earned and spent in the local economy this year by the lowest-paid of Florida’s workforce,” said Jose Rodriguez, an attorney with Florida Legal Services who worked on the lawsuit. Rodriguez added, “This is an opportunity for Florida to make an overdue commitment on behalf of working Floridians to ensure that the minimum wage is complied with.” Florida’s Attorney General has had the statutory authority to enforce the minimum wage since 2004 but to the present has yet to use that authority. Moreover very little of Florida’s workforce is even aware that they can complain to the Florida AG if they’ve been underpaid.

Advocates like Francesca Menes of the Florida Immigrant Coalition who work to address wage theft want to make sure that businesses and employees know about the June 1 change. “Wage theft is the non-payment or under-payment of workers; failing to comply with the minimum wage is one type of wage theft,” said Menes.

In February 2010, the Florida Wage Theft Taskforce was successful in passing a wage-theft ordinance in Miami-Dade County. As a result of the ordinance, over $110,000 in unpaid wages has already been recovered.

Unfortunately, Miami-Dade is the only county in the state with an anti-wage theft instrument on the books. “Some Florida legislators claim that the State already has mechanisms in place to address wage theft, but have yet to show us instances where its regulatory agencies have addressed these types of cases,” said Jeanette Smith of South Florida’s branch of the national Interfaith Worker Justice network.

While Miami-Dade’s over-burdened Department of Small Business Development (SBD) handles wage theft cases locally, workers in the other sixty-six counties in Florida are left with little to no recourse. “We expect to see a significant rise in the number of wage theft cases locally as a result of businesses in the area not being properly notified regarding the wage increase requirement,” said Cynthia Hernandez, a researcher for the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy.

Employees not paid the mandated minimum wage can contact the Attorney General’s hotline at 866-966-7226.

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