JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Fifteen percent of low wage workers in Florida report that they’ve fallen victim to wage theft, according to a study published by the Florida Policy Institute.
“And that equates to about 220,000 working Floridians. So that’s a significant number of people throughout the state,” said Alexis Tsoukalas.
Tsoukalas authored a recent study by the Florida Policy Institute that looked into wage theft in Florida. Wage theft is the failure to pay workers the wages they are legally due.
Tsoukalas’ study found victims of wage theft are shorted about 18 percent of the minimum wage on average.
That’s about $1.32 an hour, or $2,745 a year, for a full time employee.
Tsoukalas believes wage theft could skyrocket if state lawmakers don’t act to crack down on bad actors.
The reason is Amendment 2, which voters passed in 2020.
It gradually raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.
The problem is the last time voters raised the minimum wage, the state wage theft complaints nearly doubled.
Tsoukalas argued wage theft isn’t only a problem for the employees, but also employers who are forced to compete with bad actors.
“That’s really not fair to businesses that are doing the right thing in the long run,” Tsoukalas said.
A big part of the problem is a lack of enforcement.
Currently, workers can file a complaint with their employers.
If that doesn’t work, they have the option of filing a civil suit.
“Who has that type of money right off hand to file civil litigation? Especially not these workers if they’re working a minimum wage job, of course not,” said State Representative Angie Nixon.
Nixon, a Democrat representing Jacksonville, is sponsoring legislation she hopes will help tackle the problem.
It would reestablish a state Department of Labor where Floridians could file wage theft complaints.
Nixon said it’s important to make the change now, before the issue gets out of hand.
“And communities of color, Black people, Hispanics, Latinos, immigrant communities and women are the most likely to suffer from wage theft,” Nixon said.
The bill has been filed in both the House and Senate. So far it hasn’t secured any Republican co-sponsors and it hasn’t been put on the agenda for any committee hearings.
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