Friday, January 19, 2024

ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN: Florida Republican co-sponsor of child labor bill owns company with history of wage theft. (Orlando Weekly)

These Florida Republicans are a clear and present danger to working people.  Senator KEITH PERRY, like Senator TRAVIS JAMES HUTSON, typifies the genre of corrupt, self-seeking, self-aggrandizing greedhead narcissists in the Florida legislature.  Spread their names and shame.  Vote them out.   

Footnote: My dad was a child victim of child labor and blacklisted for union activities, pre-NLRA, in the late 1920s. From Orlando Weekly:

Florida Republican co-sponsor of child labor bill owns company with history of wage theft

Sen. Keith Perry is a co-sponsor on legislation that would loosen hazardous work requirements in construction for children as young as 16

Florida Republican co-sponsor of child labor bill owns company with history of wage theft
photo courtesy of Keith Perry/Facebook 

A Florida lawmaker who is co-sponsoring legislation that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work on residential construction projects is himself the owner of a roofing company that’s been found guilty in the past of breaking federal wage and hour laws.

Perry Roofing Contractors, a Gainesville-based company founded and led by Florida Sen. Keith Perry, has been sued at least six times for wage theft, the Gainesville Sunreported in 2019, and was later cited by the federal government. According to court records dating back to 2006, former employees who sued had claimed to be paid for piecework, the Sun reported, and said they weren’t paid for overtime they were lawfully entitled to under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law that governs federal wage, hour, and child labor standards. 

Two years later, in 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor separately found Perry Roofing Contractors, led by CEO Keith Perry, guilty of violating overtime and record-keeping requirements under federal law. It’s unclear if this investigation involved employees who had already sued, but federal enforcement data reviewed by Orlando Weekly shows the investigation began in 2019.

Federal officials concluded from that investigation that Perry Roofing illegally withheld earnings for employees who were recruited from a drug addiction recovery program through a  Gainesville work release center. Perry Roofing failed to include "production-related and profit-sharing bonuses" in a calculation of overtime rates, and “allowed workers to draw from the overtime bank as needed in the form of gift cards or other advances” for hours worked over 40 per week, according to a 2021 news release.

Perry's company agreed to pay $31,673 in back pay to 30 workers, following the conclusion of the federal investigation. Federal investigators did not find Perry's company in violation of federal child labor law, which forbids minors under 18 from working "on or about any roof" with limited exceptions.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division, construction is one of the most common industries in which violations of federal minimum wage, overtime, and child labor standards occur. 

That’s one of the criticisms that’s been levied by opponents against new Florida legislation (SB 460) co-sponsored by Perry, which would would loosen hazardous work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds in residential building construction, an industry that's currently deemed too dangerous under law for minors unless they're just doing clerical work.

The bill, as originally filed, would have also allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to work on roofs, superstructures and scaffolding, with no restrictions on how far off the ground they could be put to work. 

A lobbyist for the Florida Home Builders Association previously told Orlando Weekly in a statement that the bill would help "remove barriers to economic self-sufficiency" for youth and help them identify "tangible career goals," particularly for kids in parts of the state that have limited access to student learner programs in the trades through the public school system.

Primary bill sponsor Sen. Corey Simon, however, amended the legislation on Wednesday following public pressure to clarify that older teens would only be allowed to work on residential, not commercial, construction sites. They would not be allowed to work on roofs, scaffolding, ladders or superstructures more than six feet above the ground.

This change was seemingly made to remain in compliance with federal law, which prohibits minors under 18 from working "on or about roofs," with limited exceptions for federally approved student learner and apprenticeship programs. Perry co-sponsored the legislation before these changes were approved.

When reached for comment on the legislation Wednesday afternoon, Perry — who defended the bill during its first committee hearing earlier that day — told Orlando Weekly over the phone that he didn't see a connection between his private roofing business and his support for Senate Bill 460, which was officially filed by Simon, a first-term Republican senator elected to his seat in 2022.

Perry cited Simon's new changes to the bill language to justify his argument against any sort of self-dealing. The legislation, he said, "doesn't allow any individual in this age group to work on a roof … so it doesn't apply to roofing at all — my business or my industry."

Public records obtained by Orlando Weekly show that the legislation was originally fed to Sen. Simon over email by a lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, a trade group that drafted the legislation in collaboration with the Florida Home Builders Association. Both represent thousands of employers across the state of Florida and have historically fought initiatives establishing higher minimum wages and have sought to prevent or erase pro-worker policies established in local communities. 

Separate legislation (HB 49) that would extend the number of hours older teens are allowed to work during the school year, meanwhile, has similarly been backed by lobbying groups like the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, representing industries that “routinely” violate federal labor standards according to policy analyst Nina Mast, who’s tracking proposed child-labor law rollbacks for the Economic Policy Institute.

Sen. Perry, who's served in the Florida legislature for over a decade, said it was fair to say his support for Senate Bill 460 is informed by his experience with his roofing company, which he says he founded when he was 17 years old.

He admitted over the phone that he didn't have any data on-hand about how common labor violations are in the construction and roofing industries, but said he would venture to guess, based on anecdotal information, that injuries in high school football are probably much higher than those of minors on construction sites.


McKenna Schueler

McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.


Anonymous said...

Republicans love slave labor. If rent is $2000 a month and you're working for $12 an hour, that employer has a slave and nothing more. And years ago there were no places for rent for below what many people were being paid to work so wonder when they will consider North Florida to be a slave society.

Anonymous said...

Over the last 4 years, in some places in Florida, there was nothing under $1,400 for rent and wages were in some cases $10 an hour. Wouldn't that actually qualify those areas as slave owning societies? Will Republicans eventually advocate for feudalism?

Anonymous said...

Religious fundamentalism from a young age cripples the mind and intellect...makes people ripe for exploitation by Republicans. This is why they champion the religious fundamentalists.

Jason said...

They blame low wages on the president and the invisible hand, but it rarely has anything to do with that because companies gouge and pay less regardless of how great the economy is going or who is in office. If the people (the government) gives all companies the freedom to not pay, they won't! Doesn't matter how much they are making..they won't. Most businesses in America could be considered a cartel when it comes to wages because they all in agreement that wages should be as little as possible.