Early Friday morning, Miami-Dade County Commissioners voted to approve county Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposed budget of $6.1 billion, which includes funding to enforce the county’s wage theft ordinance.

According to a press release issued Thursday by the mayor’s office:

“The Wage Theft Ordinance has proven to be an effective tool for promoting economic security and dignity for those working in the County. This is yet another example of how combining resources through collaborative partnerships leads to successful outcomes and achievement of objectives for everyone,” said Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez.

The mayor’s release adds that a collaboration between Miami-Dade County’s Small Business Division — which implements the Wage Theft ordinance — and the U.S. Department of Labor resulted in the recovery of of $147,777 in unpaid wages for 47 employees who were “not covered under federal wage and hour laws but are covered under the County’s ordinance were able to file complaints with SBD and were assisted with the recovery.”

A 2010 Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy report on wage theft indicates that the restaurant, food, construction, health care and social assistance industries show the highest number of reported wage theft cases in South Florida.

During the month of August, a group of restaurant workers organized a series of protests at De Rodriguez Cuba, a restaurant owned by Douglas Rodriguez, to demand their wages for hours worked. According to Spanish-language news outlet Univision Noticias 23, the workers alleged Rodriguez owed them about $21,000.

Juan Carlos Ocampo, a labor activist who supported the restaurant workers, tells the The Florida Independent that support from the Small Business Division helped the employees recover $11,000.

According to the South Florida Wage Theft Task Force, in its first year, Miami-Dade County’s wage theft ordinance “has processed 662 claims for a total amount of $1,760,177. Almost $400,000 has been recovered through conciliation and over $300,000 has been awarded through a hearing examiner process. In August alone, the program recovered and collected thru conciliation $52,000 for 109 workers.”

“It’s amazing how many people weren’t yet aware of the program,” says the Task Force’s Jeanette Smith. “While the program has been successful and we appreciate the support we have gotten from local governement, we think this is a unique partnership we have with local government. I don’t think we’ve gotten to the depth and breadth of the problem, and that will take a concerted effort between local government, community and local businesses. I think wage theft is one more thing that hurts small businesses.”

Cynthia Hernandez, a research associate at the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, has extensively studied wage theft. She says wage theft cases, like the one recently exposed by the Independent at a Fort Lauderdale construction project, are “very common”:

Small contractors to even large corporations like Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us have used this method to not pay employees. It happens a lot in construction because there are so many different levels of contractors and subs, which make it even harder for the worker to identify ultimately who is responsible for their pay. I have even heard of sub-contractors (employers) who have been stiffed out of their cut by contractors and as a result, have been late or unable to pay their employees. Until we can actually get some enforcement, this will continue to happen.

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