Even though nobody would disagree that employees should be paid for their work, how to deal with wage theft has become a highly contentious issue.

Interfaith Worker Justice, national faith and labor coalitions, workers’ centers and congregations across the country have organized “actions and services calling for Just Jobs,” from Nov. 17 through Nov. 20.

“Across the country, the [Interfaith Worker Justice] network is lifting up the need for jobs that are just- jobs that pay a living wage and offer benefits,” the organization writes. “We need jobs with employers who do not steal wages from employees.”

This week also marks the first anniversary of a publically declared Day Against Wage Theft in Miami-Dade County, which has a local anti-wage theft ordinance facing a court challenge brought by the Florida Retail Federation.

The Miami-Dade County ordinance creates a resolution process for wage theft claims outside of the court system. Supporters of the measure say it can help prevent employers from cheating workers out of pay they are owed by allowing workers to make claims without having to hire a lawyer.

The Research Institute for Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University found that almost 3,700 wage theft violations were reported from August 2006 through August 2010 in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, with more than 1,600 violations from 2008 through 2010 in the accommodation, food services, construction, health care and social assistance industries.

State Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, and state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, last week filed a bill for the upcoming 2012 legislative session which prohibits Florida municipalities from “adopting or maintaining” local ordinances (such as Miami-Dade’s) that crack down on wage theft.

Samantha Hunter Padgett, deputy general counsel for the Florida Retail Federation, told The Florida Independent her organization supports Simmons’ bill because “existing state and federal laws address the issues raised in local wage theft ordinances.”

Early this month, Miami-Dade County Commissioners approved a resolution that “opposes state legislation that would preempt Miami-Dade County’s wage theft ordinance,” and a second resolution that “urges the Florida legislature to pass a statewide wage theft law modeled [after] the Miami-Dade county wage theft ordinance.”

The 2009 “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers” report states that more than 1 million workers in low-wage industries in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City lose more than $56.4 million per week as a result of employment and labor law violations.

The University of Illinois’ Nik Theodore, one of the authors of the “Broken Laws” study, said late in 2010 that “most of the studies were seeing report a rise in the non-payment of wages and other violations.”

Theodore adds that dealing with wage theft will take coordinated effort between federal, state and local enforcement agencies.

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