People Engaged in Active Community Efforts (aka PEACE) released a study Thursday that finds that Miami-Dade County’s anti-wage theft ordinance is “much more effective” at dealing with wage theft claims than the process in Palm Beach County, where no such ordinance exists. The Miami-Dade measure is under attack in the courts, and in the state Legislature.

PEACE — a coalition of 27 religious congregations from Palm Beach County — met this week with Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana, who said she would bring up wage theft for discussion in December.

PEACE has urged the county commission to pass an anti-wage theft ordinance similar to the one Miami-Dade County put in place in early 2010. The county commission decided in June to delay discussing the ordinance until 2012. The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County was chosen to deal with current wage theft cases.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that “Vana said she was ‘concerned’ about the Legal Aid Society’s results,” adding that “what we are doing right now doesn’t seem to have the desired effect.”

PEACE released its study comparing the results of wage theft claims in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach two days after state Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, and state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamont Springs, filed a bill to prohibit Florida municipalities from “adopting or maintaining” local ordinances that crack down on wage theft.

The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County and the Department of Small Business Development of Miami-Dade County, which handle wage theft cases in their respective counties, provided the data for the study.

The analysis shows that:

  • Miami-Dade had a 74 percent intake average; Palm Beach’s was 54 percent. (Intake refers to the percentage of wage theft cases accepted by a program.)
  • Miami-Dade resolved 45 percent of its cases through conciliation; Palm Beach resolved 17 percent through conciliation.
  • Palm Beach recovered 2.5 percent of the claim dollars through conciliation; Miami-Dade recovered 45 percent of claim dollars through conciliation.
  • Palm Beach county had zero cases resolved in the adjudication phase (pro-bono attorneys handle these cases in civil court); 149 cases have been resolved in this phase in Miami-Dade.

The Sun Sentinel adds that John Foley, a supervising attorney at Legal Aid Society, ”acknowledges that its reliance on volunteer attorneys to resolve wage-theft cases hasn’t been as successful as hoped.”

Mazzella tells the Independent that PEACE and Vana agree that the Legal Aid Program does not work, and that the bills filed at the state level are “not a valid approach,” but are “more of a political approach.”

If those bills pass, “it would be worse because there would no be no hope for a local remedy” to wage theft, Mazzella says.

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