People Engaged in Active Community Efforts — aka PEACE, a coalition of  27 religious congregations from Palm Beach County — told 450 of its members Monday night that it is urgent to continue their campaign to create a countywide anti-wage theft ordinance.

“Being paid for one’s labor is such a fundamental point of our whole economic system,” says Peter Mazzella, a deacon at the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church and a member of PEACE. “And if that doesn’t happen, or it isn’t happening, the whole structure starts to fall apart.”

PEACE supports a proposed ordinance to combat wage theft, and has been urging the Palm Beach County Commission to move ahead with the measure.

A similar ordinance approved in 2010 by the Miami-Dade County Commission created a resolution process for wage theft claims outside of court. 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.

State Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, proposed a bill in the 2011 legislative session that would do away with the Miami-Dade ordinance and any others like it. The bill, which did not pass, was supported by the Florida Retail Federation, which has a pending court challenge against the Miami-Dade measure, and Associated Builders and Contractors.

State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, today revived that legislation.

According to PEACE, since February 2010 the Miami-Dade department that oversees and enforces the anti-wage theft ordinance “has conciliated and recovered over $160,000 in back wages and has awarded nearly $420,000 in back wages to workers through administrative hearings.”

PEACE organized the Monday night meeting to ask state senators and representatives three questions:

  • Do you agree that it’s fair for workers to get paid for work they have done?
  • If a bill preempting a local wage theft ordinance comes before you, will you vote against it?
  • Will you write letters to Palm Beach County commissioners calling on them to pass a countywide anti-wage theft ordinance?

State Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, answered yes to the three questions. Abby Ross, a legislative aid for state Rep. Lori Berman,D-Delray Beach, said Berman answered yes to questions one and two, but was still undecided on No. 3.

According to Mazzella, on Wednesday PEACE will meet with Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana to discuss the advantages of implementing the anti-wage theft ordinance and to get the issue on the commission’s agenda by December.

Rev. Kevin Jones told the audience at Monday night’s meeting that support from Slosberg and Berman is very important, “but we have to notice the 17 empty chairs,” refering to the absence of many state senators and representatives.

“We have to let them know we are not going away,” Jones said. “They need to represent us and not the Florida Retail Federation.”

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