County Commission to Vote on Wage Theft Ordinance

By Bill Dries

Shelby County Commissioners take a final vote Monday, Jan. 14, on a “wage theft” ordinance to set up a process of local complaints from employees that would go through the General Sessions Environmental Court.

Third and final reading of the ordinance will come with lots of debate on and off the commission if last week’s committee sessions were any indication.

The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

The proposal by commissioner Steve Mulroy goes to the full commission with a negative committee recommendation. Of the nine commissioners in committee on the proposal last week, six voted against it. That doesn’t stop the measure from going to a vote before the full 13-member commission.

“We’ve debated this so many times and we are going to debate it again Monday,” Mulroy said Wednesday as commissioners heard from several citizens on both sides of the issue and then moved to a vote without any debate among commissioners.

Backers of the proposal picketed the Holiday Inn on Union Avenue Downtown the weekend before the committee session. But some supporters of the ordinance said they tried to call off the picket as talks continued with the hospitality and entertainment industry associations, which have expressed concerns about the ordinance.

Jon Crisp, chairman of the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce Alliance who manages the Holiday Inn at Wolfchase Galleria, said his concern is “massive liability exposure.”

“A $500 mistake may cost an employer $5,000 to $8,000. We think that is excessive for a $500 abuse,” he said. “We shouldn’t help create basically a threat settlement mill in this town.”

Memphis Area Home Builders Association executive director Don Glays called the ordinance an “open door for frivolous lawsuits.”

Mulroy has said the ordinance is needed to quickly resolve complaints about wages withheld or working conditions in which workers don’t get paid for all of the hours they have worked or overtime.

Other backers of the ordinance on the commission have said employers who are abiding by wage and workplace regulations have nothing to fear from the ordinance, which is enforceable in the unincorporated areas of Shelby County.

The Memphis City Council is considering the same ordinance, which would apply within the city.

Any amendments to the ordinance at Monday’s commission session would be considered by the council when it takes up its version of the ordinance for third and final reading in February.