From the Labor Blog:
Last fall, Florida voters overwhelmingly (72%) approved a constitutional amendment increasing the minimum wage by a buck and mandating that any employers breaking the law pay double damages plus legal fees when they violate the law.
Now the Florida GOP state House leaders want to let violators of the law escape those double damages if they give the money back within 15 days of being notified by employees of the intent to sue.
The Florida Republican leaders claim this provision fits within the intent of the Amendment. Since I drafted the damn thing, I think I can say with some authority that their bill completely violates the constitutional amendment. Read the amendment for yourself, but the basic problem with this 15-day notice is the same as the Wal-Mart deal: Employers will have every incentive to violate the law recklessly. Even if they are caught underpaying a few employees, they can simply pay back the wages owed with no fine, while pocketing the profit from underpaying the many workers who will inevitably never challenge the employer’s illegal activity.
But then that's the point of these “notice” provisions— to gut minimum wage laws and discourage enforcement. These rightwing politicians hate working class people and support corporate criminality. They are soft on crime when the criminals wear a nice three-piece suit.
Both this and Jeb's campaign against the class-size amendment are part of a more basic political dynamic. Florida is your classic 50/50 state. But our state legislative districts have been carefully gerrymandered to produce large GOP majorities in both houses, delegates who are as a group to the right of the median voter, who is in fact quite middle-of-the-road. As a result, the only way to get progressive legislation passed, even when the public supports it, is by pleblicite. Yes, this on occasion produces an absurd result (but so do legislatures). It nevertheless remains the only way in which anything that doesn't fit the GOP agenda can get passed — even when voters want it. And when that does happen, the GOP swings into action to sabotage it and repeal it.
But that takes work, and can even create a tiny bit of bad press. Which is why the Florida GOP wants to greatly reduce the public's ability to pass constitutional amendments.
Democracy in action is not always pretty. But it is better than the alternatives. I would trade the ease-of-amendment by pleblicite for a legislature that ran in districts which were drawn in a fair and non-partisan manner. But so long as we remain one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, we need the citizen initiative option.
As regards the minimum wage, there are legal and moral issues here. Our legislators swear to uphold the state constitution. Currently, that includes the follwoing clause regarding the enforcement of the right to the state minimum wage:
Enforcement. Persons aggrieved by a violation of this amendment may bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction against an Employer or person violating this amendment and, upon prevailing, shall recover the full amount of any back wages unlawfully withheld plus the same amount as liquidated damages, and shall be awarded reasonable attorney's fees and costs. In addition, they shall be entitled to such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate to remedy the violation including, without limitation, reinstatement in employment and/or injunctive relief.
Allowing employers who fail to make their payments a chance to escape this clause, which seems to pretty clearly create a right to sue and a right to double wages as damages, strikes me as not living up to that oath. (I also expect that a court would find it violates the Florida Constitution.)