Cybersecdn- One of the lawmakers in Florida who is supporting a bill that would let 16- and 17-year-olds work on home improvement projects also runs a roofing business that has been found guilty of breaking federal wage and hour rules in the past.
The company Perry Roofing Contractors, which is based in Gainesville and was started and is run by Florida Sen. Keith Perry, has been sued at least six times for pay theft, according to the Gainesville Sun in 2019. The federal government later pointed this out as well. According to court records from 2006, former workers who sued said they were paid for piecework and not for overtime that they were legally entitled to under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This is the federal law that sets standards for wages, hours, and child labor.
After two years, in 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor found Perry Roofing Contractors, which was run by CEO Keith Perry, guilty of breaking federal law by not paying workers extra or keeping accurate records. It is not clear if this investigation included employees who had already filed a lawsuit, but Orlando Weekly looked at federal enforcement data and found that the probe began in 2019.
Based on their investigation, federal officials decided that Perry Roofing illegally kept wages from workers who were hired through a Gainesville work release center from a drug addiction recovery program. According to a news release from 2021, Perry Roofing did not count “production-related and profit-sharing bonuses” when figuring out overtime pay. They also “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.
After the federal investigation was over, Perry’s company decided to pay 30 workers $31,673 in back pay. Perry’s company did not break federal child labor laws, which say that kids younger than 18 can’t work “on or about any roof,” with a few exceptions.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division says that building is one of the main fields where federal minimum wage, overtime, and child labor laws are broken.
Some people don’t like the new Florida law (SB 460), which Perry co-sponsored and would make it easier for 16- and 17-year-olds to work in residential building construction, which is currently illegal for teens to do unless they’re just doing boring office work.
When the bill was first introduced, it would have also let 16- and 17-year-olds work on roofs, upper floors, and platforms, and there would have been no limits on how high they could be.
A lobbyist for the Florida Home Builders Association told Orlando Weekly in a statement that the bill would “remove barriers to economic self-sufficiency” for young people and help them set “tangible career goals.” This is especially true for kids in parts of the state where public school systems don’t offer many trades programs for students.
But on Wednesday, after public pressure, primary bill sponsor Sen. Corey Simon changed the bill to make it clear that older teens would only be able to work on residential building sites and not commercial ones. Over six feet above the ground, they wouldn’t be able to work on roofs, scaffolding, ladders, or other buildings.
This change was likely made to stay in line with federal law, which says that people under the age of 18 can’t work “on or about roofs,” with a few exceptions for nationally approved programs for student learners and apprentices. Perry co-sponsored the bill that made these changes before it was passed.
Perry defended the bill at its first committee hearing earlier that day. When asked about it Wednesday afternoon, Orlando Weekly called Perry and asked him about it. Perry said that he didn’t see a link 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.
Simon’s new changes to the bill wording were used by Perry to support his case against any kind of self-dealing. He stated that the law “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 received by Orlando Weekly show that the bill was first sent to Sen. Simon by email from a lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida. This is a trade group that worked with the Florida Home Builders Association to write the bill. Both groups, which speak for thousands of employers across Florida, have worked in the past against efforts to raise the minimum wage and against or got rid of local laws that support workers.
A different bill (HB 49) would let older teens work more hours during the school year. This bill has also been backed by lobbying groups like the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which works in industries that “routinely” break federal labor standards, according to Nina Mast, an analyst for the Economic Policy Institute who tracks proposed child-labor law rollbacks.
Sen. Perry, who has been in the Florida senate for more than ten years, said that his support for Senate Bill 460 comes from his work with his roofing company, which he started when he was 17.
He told me on the phone that he didn’t have any statistics on how common labor violations are in the roofing and construction industries. However, he said that based on anecdotal evidence, he would guess that high school football injuries are probably much higher than injuries to minors on construction sites.
Children working on building sites are six times more likely to be killed on the job than children working in other industries, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. However, construction is a high-risk field for both children and adults. According to the New York Times, one of the most dangerous jobs for kids is roofing. However, building can also be very dangerous, and it’s the reason the state gets the most complaints about people doing things without licenses. The New York Times has written a lot about how young people who are working illegally, especially unaccompanied children, are getting hurt or even dying on the job on construction sites.
The Times reported that Andrés Toma, 16, died when he fell off the roof of a home in Florida last April. OSHA said that his death could have been avoided. A roofing company in Lake Mary, which is close to Orlando, was fined more than $50,000 in 2023 for using a 15-year-old worker who fell 20 feet from a home in Orlando and hurt his head and spine badly. According to federal agents, the boy was in the hospital for days.
But the penalties for breaking the law aren’t very strong, and Florida’s law enforcement is terribly inadequate. There is bipartisan legislation in Congress that would increase the penalties for breaking the law on child labor. Currently, the maximum penalty for each violation of federal law is $15,138, or $68,801 for violations that cause major injury or death. The most that can be fined for breaking the state’s child labor rule is even less.
Officials in the labor department have also asked Congress to give more money to the agency in charge of discipline. This agency has had the same amount of money from Congress for years and has almost no staff.
Perry, the senator from Florida, said he doesn’t think the bill he’s helping to write will really change how child labor is handled. “If people are violating child labor laws in construction or other areas, what would a bill … you know, they, they’re not following the law anyway,” he said. “What difference will it make in that capacity, whether they’re following the laws or not?”
Additionally, that would be a good issue to discuss.