Wage Theft Ordinance Hits Snag in Full Commission Meeting

Ordinance transferred to Basar's economic development committee for second reading after falling one vote short; City Council scheduled to consider similar ordinance Tuesday.



On the eve of a consideration by Memphis City Council of a companion ordinance, the Shelby County Commission failed by a single vote to approve on first reading an ordinance that would endow county government with a procedure for prohibiting and punishing wage theft.

The same ordinance had received a provisional pass last Wednesday in the Commission’s general government committee, which sent the ordinance to the floor of Monday’s public meeting with a favorable recomendation, but the vote of the full commission is the one that counts, and after an extended and often impassioned discussion Monday, the ordinance would fall just short.

The final vote was 6 for, 3 against, and 4 abstaining. The key abstention was that of Steve Basar, a District 1 Republican who, as the winner of a special election, is the Commission’s newest member and who chairs the body’s economic development commission.

At the close of the vote, Commission chairman Mike Ritz assigned the ordinance to Basar’s committee, removing it from the jurisdiction of the general government committee. He did so after pointing out to his fellow commissioners that, despite having failed to get the necessary 7 votes (out of 13) on the first reading, the proposal, sponsored by Commissioner Steve Mulroy, a District 5 Democrat, was still due three full readings, with only the third and final one requiring passage.

Up to this point, the Commission’s practice has been to expend full debate on each reading round, but Ritz indicated he would prefer following the City Council model, whereby extended debate normally occurs only — or primarily — on the final round.

Objection to the ordinance had been along several lines, but the pivotal one had been a concern that the ordinance should have the approval of legitimate businesses that do not practice any version of wage theft — which, as defined by the ordinance and by several witnesses testifying for it, included withholding of wages properly owed an employee or mutually agreed to, failure to pay overtime, and asking employees to work “off the clock.”

Basar indicated that the attitude of the business community at large was an unknown factor and undertook to inquire of the Chamber of Commerce and mainstream business concerns about their opinions of the ordinance or possible suggestions for amending it.

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