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Underpaid workers get more help from Pinellas County

Margie Manning

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Private sector employers in Pinellas County will be required to provide more information about pay to their workers under revisions to the county’s wage theft ordinance.

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved amendments to the measure Tuesday, so that it is substantially similar to a wage theft ordinance in the city of St. Petersburg. The hope is that the city will repeal its ordinance, allowing one county-wide wage theft ordinance to be enforced by the county’s Office of Human Rights, said Paul Valenti, director of the office.

The city of St. Petersburg’s administration has planned to pull the city’s ordinance back, once the county passed its amended wage theft law. However, repeal of the city ordinance requires City Council approval. The issue has not yet come before the City Council.

Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay or underpays a workers. Examples include paying less than minimum wage, not paying workers overtime, not allowing workers to take meal and rest breaks, or taking workers’ tips, according to the Office of Human Rights.

Since Jan. 1, 2016, about $350,000 in unpaid wages have been recovered and paid to workers for uncompensated work performed, Valenti said in a memo to county commissioners.

The City of St. Petersburg adopted its wage theft ordinance in 2015 and revised it in 2016. The revisions include a requirement that at the time of hiring, an employer has to provide to each worker a notice spelling out both the regular and overtime rate of pay, as well as the legal name of the employer, their physical address and telephone number. Another revision called for employers to post a notice summarizing workers’ protections and rights in a location accessible to all employees.

 

The county’s wage theft ordinance became operative in January 2016, and was amended in early 2019, Valenti told commissioners at a public hearing Tuesday.

“The amendments before you this evening we hope would be the last amendments before you for some time. What they do seek to do is make our county ordinance read a little more substantially equivalent to the city of St. Petersburg’s ordinance, particularly as it relates to providing notice to employees of who their legal employer is, the promised rate of pay, when payday occurs and how pay is to be structured, and notice of rights under the ordinance of ways to complain about wage theft if they think it occurs,” Valenti said.

Pinellas commissioners unanimously approved the revisions with no discussion.

County officials say a wage theft ordinance is needed because it provides economic security for workers, promotes economic development by eliminating unfair competition from businesses that don’t pay or underway employees, and reduces the number of employees who rely on public assistance for essential needs because their employer does not pay or underpays earned wages.

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