Miami-Dade social justice advocates call for income equality, defend county’s wage theft program

By | 03.02.12 | 10:52 am

Workers who were stiffed out of wages at a Broward County construction project earlier this year (Pic by Marcos Restrepo)

Clergy, labor and community advocates who spoke Thursday night at Miami’s Church of the Open Door called on residents to step up their efforts for economic equality, and hold elected officials and for-profit corporations accountable for their actions.

The event was organized by 1 Miami, a non-profit organization focused on labor, social and economic justice.

Several of the event’s participants spoke out against a bill, recently passed by the state House of Representatives, that would put an end to Miami-Dade county’s anti-wage theft program.

The bill filed by state Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, prohibits local governments from “adopting or maintaining in effect law, ordinance, or rule for purpose of addressing” wage theft, the practice of employers stiffing workers out of the wages they are owed.

Goodson’s bill would preempt the existing Miami-Dade anti-wage theft ordinance that has succesfully recovered $400,000 since September 2010.

Gepsie Metellus, executive director of Sant La (an organization that works with the Haitian community), said that state officials should not  meddle in Miami-Dade issues, adding that residents “have to be more demanding” to make sure elected officials do what is in the best interest of their constituents.

Bill Diggs, President and CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, said that he worried about the legality of the bill. “It bothers me when people say it is right because it is legal,” he said, adding that slavery was once legal, but was never right. “We need to make sure law is created to make us better…It is legal for the one percent to get richer and the 99 percent to get poorer.”

Omayra Hernandez, a registered nurse who works at the publicly-funded Jackson Memorial Hospital, spoke out against a slew of job cuts announced this week, saying they will hurt patient care.

On Tuesday, Jackson Health System announced that it would cut 1,115 jobs, for a net savings of $69 million.

Carlos Migoya, CEO of Jackson Health System, told the Miami Herald that the moves were necessary to “right-size” the staff because of a reduction in the number of patients. “We can’t afford to have extra staff.”

According to the Herald, Migoya “announced that Jackson would add up to 350 part-time employees to provide flexible staffing to meet changing patient volumes.”

Rev. Dr. Joaquin Willis, pastor of the Church of the Open Door, said Thursday evening that churches need to attack economic inequality and issues like wage theft. Willis said that Miami’s economic development is 20 years behind many U.S. cities.

“We need collective disobedience,” Willis said, adding that residents must demand that privately-run corporations based in Miami invest at the local level.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime did not attack the House bill, but said that he would talk with county attorneys to see if the Miami-Dade has a standing in court to oppose the bill.

Erik Brakken, a leading member of 1 Miami, also spoke during the event, arguing that South Florida residents need to hold their elected officials accountable, especially during a crucial election year.

“We are a politically sought-after state in this election year,” he said. “When they come to ask for our vote, we need to ask, ‘What are you going to do to create better jobs?’”

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