HB 137/SB 1598 would mitigate wage theft by establishing a State Department of Labor to ensure working Floridians are paid the wages to which they are constitutionally entitled.
On November 3, 2020, Floridians made the historic decision to move an estimated 2.5 million workers closer to a living wage with a “yes” vote on Amendment 2. This gradually raised the state minimum wage to $15 per hour. The first phase went into effect in 2021, increasing the minimum wage from $8.65 to $10 per hour. It will continue to increase by one dollar each September until it reaches $15 in 2026.
This vote made Florida the eighth state to raise its minimum wage to $15, but the first in the South to do so by ballot measure. Florida is one of just four states in the U.S.—and the only state in the South—to enshrine the right to a minimum wage in its constitution, the highest level of state law.
But the enactment of a state minimum wage does not ensure workers will be paid in accordance with it. Unfortunately, the failure to pay workers the wages they are legally due—or wage theft—is widespread in low-wage jobs and disproportionately impacts women, immigrants, and people of color. These are the very groups minimum wage increases like Amendment 2 are meant to benefit. Wage theft also forces law-abiding employers to compete with unscrupulous employers’ artificially low labor costs, while workers’ suppressed wages weaken consumer spending.
Despite having one of the highest minimum wages in the South, Florida simultaneously has the highest minimum wage violation rate of the ten most populous states in the nation. Florida victims of wage theft lose 18 percent of the minimum wage to which they are entitled, on average, or $1.32 per hour. Moreover, Florida has failed to enforce minimum wage violations as long as it has had a minimum wage, which first went into effect in 2005.
This rampant wage theft is primarily due to the state’s failure to create an administrative body to enforce pay for all of Florida’s workers. Some localities, starting with Miami-Dade County, passed their own wage theft ordinances that created local processes for recovering stolen wages. But only a handful of these ordinances exist, not enough to cover the entire state’s workforce. As such, Florida workers need an additional statewide option.
Florida policymakers should consider passingwould mitigate wage theft by establishing a State Department of Labor equipped with the authority and resources necessary to ensure working Floridians are paid the wages to which they are constitutionally entitled.
“On just $9.70 an hour, I have no choice but to spend every waking minute thinking about how to stretch the pennies between food and rent. You shouldn’t have to work two full-time jobs just to scrape by, and still struggle to keep a roof over your family’s head.” - Faith B., a fast food restaurant cashier in Lakeland, Florida and mother of five children.