Despite having one of the highest minimum wages in the South, Florida still has the highest minimum wage violation rate of the ten most populous states in the nation. Failing to pay someone the wage to which they are entitled is known as wage theft, and in Florida, it happens most often among minimum-wage workers. Arguably, this is in large part the result of the state’s failure to prioritize a means to enforce wage protections for all Floridians. In Florida, Black and Latina/o workers are already more likely to experience wage theft than white workers; when gender and immigration status are considered, Black and Latina immigrant women are 2 and 2.3 times more likely to face it than white, U.S.-born women. As a result, failing to enforce pay disproportionately harms Floridians of color.

Until 2002, the State of Florida had a state labor department, the Department of Labor and Employment Security (DLES). Founded in 1978, DLES included six programs, a support division, and numerous independent entities under its administrative umbrella. Yet only a narrow subset of DLES’s duties and budget were allocated to worker protections, with unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, and workforce development constituting the bulk of its responsibilities.

Early in his first term, Governor Jeb Bush set his sights on dismantling DLES. The introduction of federal welfare reform in the mid-to-late 1990s gave states increased flexibility in administering welfare and employment programs, which prompted the restructuring of state labor agencies. In 1999, the Florida Legislature initiated DLES’ dismantling and directed the state to identify workforce development divisions and programs that could be “eliminated, consolidated, or privatized.” Given the continued weakening of DLES’ role since the mid-1990s, it was all but a formality when the Florida Legislature finally abolished the Department entirely during the 2002 session.

As Governor Bush stated in 2002, many of DLES’ programs were transferred elsewhere, but not all. Adopting a mechanism to protect and enforce wage and hour laws for all workers was not considered at the time. This resulted in reinscribing a system in which employers could commit wage theft without state interference. Identical bills to re-establish the Department of Labor have been introduced in 2021, 2022, and 2023, yet all have failed to receive meaningful legislative consideration.

Furthermore, the Legislature has doubled down by attempting to block local wage theft ordinances numerous times since 2011.[1] Thus far, advocates have staved off such proposals.




[1] 2011 (SB 982/HB 241) local wage theft; 2012 (SB 862/HB 609) local wage theft​; 2013 (SB 1216/HB 1125) local wage theft​; 2014 (SB 926/HB 957) local wage theft​; 2017 SB 1158/HB 17 local regulations on commerce, trade and labor; ​2019 (SB 432/HB 847) local ordinances on “conditions of employment;” ​2020 (SB 1126/HB 305) local ordinances on “conditions of employment”