Our Club researched human rights protections in our county over the summer. We discovered that our Pinellas County Office of Human Rights is authorized under law, and committed, to protecting all citizens in this county from discrimination in fair housing, employment, public accommodations and government programs and assistance. These incidents include discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, familial status, pregnancy status, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc. Sounds pretty good, right? We were and are impressed with our local human rights safety net.
BUT, we still had wage theft situations occurring where unscrupulous employers chose not to pay their employees for hours they had already worked. These small employers (annual incomes under $500,000) were not subject to federal labor laws in this regard. The local legal remedies available to workers were too burdensome to be of much practical use to them and were seldom used. We think many of these workers are low-income, poorly educated, speak English as a second language, and are transportation-disadvantaged, time poor, etc. They can’t pay a filing fee or visit a small claims court several times to recover earned wages that might be only $75-$100 in value. A few dishonest employers know this and take advantage of their employees’ vulnerabilities.
After emails from our members to county commissioners (along with much public support from other nonprofits and citizens in the area), and testimony delivered by our Club, our County Commission voted on November 10 to close the gaps in wage theft protection. Starting in January 2016, all workers in this county regardless of their employer’s annual income, public or private status, will have recourse if employers try to cheat them out of their promised, and earned, wages above a $60 threshold. The new ordinance will work in harmony with the federal and state laws.
Next challenge for Zonta Club of Pinellas is to research the potential discrimination of U.S. Housing and Urban Development Section 8 housing voucher recipients to see if landlords are discriminating against them on the basis of the source of income for housing. We suspect that these will primarily be women-headed family households. We believe that these families might be shunted into high-crime neighborhoods with poor schools, crummy transportation options, and lack of safe surroundings for their children to play outside because landlords do not want “public aid” recipients mixed in with their other residents.