SB 1756/HB 507 would mitigate wage theft by establishing a State Department of Labor to ensure working Floridians are paid the wages they are constitutionally entitled to.
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 remains the only state whose minimum wage is codified in its constitution, the utmost 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 has failed to enforce minimum wage violations as long as it has had a state minimum wage since 2005. If these violation rates persist, Florida could expect to lose an average of $25.3 million in sales tax revenue each year over the next five years.
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.
Before the minimum wage increases again to $11 this Fall, Florida policymakers should consider passing SB 1756/HB 507 in the 2022 session. These bills would 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 they are constitutionally entitled to.
“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.