Labor Secretary Hilda Solis (Pic via dol.gov)

Two Florida restaurant companies will have to pay back wages to almost 150 workers, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division announced Monday.

According to the Wage and Hour Division, “La Nopalera restaurant in Orange Park has agreed to pay 24 employees $177,935 in back wages following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division that uncovered violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions.”

In the other case, “a Subway eatery franchisee with 29 locations in the Tampa Bay area has been ordered to pay 122 employees a total of $7,536 in minimum back wages plus $3,768 in liquidated damages by Judge Richard Lazzara of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division.”

In December 2011, the Wage and Hour Division announced that through its enforcement initiative “targeting full-service buffet restaurants in South Florida has found consistent and widespread noncompliance with the minimum wage, overtime, and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

The Wage and Hour Division added that it completed 34 investigations of these establishments in South Florida, “recovering $667,704 in back wages for 271 restaurant employees. In addition, the division has assessed $14,520 in civil money penalties against employers for willful and/or repeated FLSA violations.”

In January, the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy (known as RISEP) at Florida International University released its second study that shows that wage theft — employers stiffing workers out of money they are owed — remains a widespread problem that affects millions of Floridians.

“We estimate that out of $28 million recovered, it’s two to three times that amount of unreported cases, because how many people really know about the wage theft ordinance in Miami-Dade, or about the Wage and Hour Division?” Cynthia Hernandez, one of the report authors, told The Florida Independent.

The RISEP report adds:

Accommodation and Food Services have been a core focus of Florida’s economy for nearly a century and it has the highest frequency of wage violations. This industry includes: hotels, restaurants, bars, casinos, food service caterers, and other food serving establishments. Together these businesses employ a large proportion of Florida’s workforce and are fundamental to Florida’s tourism trade.

Wage and Hour Division data, cited in the RISEP report, indicates that between September 2008 and January 2011 it handled 1,680 accommodation and food services industry wage theft cases in Florida.

According to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, “the power and influence” of the Restaurant Association “is indisputable with a legislative track record to back it up. Led by CEO Carol Dover and an active Board of Directors,” the Association “has been effective in influencing legislation that has saved the industry $1.2 billion in taxes and fees over the past 10 years.”

The Association also indicates that with more than 900,000 jobs, the group’s industry is “Florida’s largest employer.” According to National Restaurant Association data (.pdf), restaurants employ more than 794,000 people in Florida, and “in 2011 Florida’s restaurants are projected to register $30.1 billion in sales.”

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