Miami-Dade County Commissioner Natacha Seijas will issue a proclamation today declaring Nov. 18, 2010 a Day Against Wage Theft in Miami-Dade County — part of a national effort in over 50 cities across the country.

The Research Institute for Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University (RISEP-FIU) issued a report that focuses on the impact of wage theft in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. It states:

Wage theft is when workers are paid below the minimum wage, not paid for overtime, forced to work off the clock, have their time cards altered, are misclassified as independent contractors, or are simply not paid a wage for work performed. Certain types of workers are more vulnerable to wage theft violations, such as low-wage and immigrant workers who encompass a large scope of Florida’s workforce.

The RISEP report documents almost 3,700 wage theft violations from August 2006 through August 2010 in the two counties, with over 1,600 violations from 2008 through 2010 in the accommodation, food services, construction, health care and social assistance industries.

Report author Cynthia Hernandez told The Florida Independent that law, accounting and veterinary professionals and early child care educators, private school teachers, college and university staff, musicians, dance and theater groups are also affected by wage theft.

Hernandez added that back wages paid to workers after employers acknowledged wrongdoing amounts to over $4 million that has not been circulating through the local economy.

And finally she added that, “While we have Wage and Hour Divisions in Florida there are other enforcement tools we need like the wage theft ordinance, that unlike the WHD covers all workers.”

Miami-Dade was the first county in the nation to adopt a countywide Wage Theft Ordinance on Feb. 28, 2010, which applies to private sector employees and employers. According to the RISEP report in 2006-2007 several Miami-Dade County organizations created the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, which includes faith-based, legal and immigrant rights activists, union members, university researchers, business employers and citizens.

The task force was vital in the passage of the Miami-Dade County Wage Theft Ordinance earlier this year. Florida Legal Services, a task force member, drafted the ordinance.

Jose Rodriguez, staff attorney at Florida Legal Services told the Independent that the purpose of a day against wage theft is to bring awareness to the broader public about how frequently wage theft violations occur.

“The City of Miami passed a Living Wage Ordinance in 2006 that applies to city contracts with the private companies,” said Rodriguez, who that same year represented janitorial workers who were victims of wage theft who maintained the city’s Orange Bowl Stadium and Bay Front Park. After a lengthy court process, the workers were paid several years of back wages.

“In low-wage industries wage theft is rampant,” Rodriguez said. “We [Florida Legal Services] work with security guards, plant nursery workers, construction workers. Wage theft affects everyone, regardless of ethnicity or immigration status.”

Rodriguez believes the county’s wage theft ordinance needs to include strong anti-retaliation protections. He added that the City of Miami Beach’s living wage ordinance has strong anti-retaliation protections.

“This is not anti-business,” he said. “It is tough if you’re a small business owner and the competition undercuts wages. When you have people that don’t get paid you don’t have a functioning economy.”

The 2009 Broken Laws Report states that over 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 Broken Laws report explains:

Wage theft not only depresses the already meager earnings of low-wage workers, it also adversely impacts their communities and the local economies of which they are part. Low-income families spend the large majority of their earnings on basic necessities, such as food, clothing and housing. Their expenditures circulate through local economies, supporting businesses and jobs. Wage theft robs local communities of this spending, and ultimately limits economic growth.

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