Posts Tagged ‘wage theft’

Progressive news out of Florida: Miami-Dade workers to benefit from wage theft ordinance

Posted on: September 23rd, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

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.

Broward County, Fla., construction workers say they’re not being paid

Posted on: August 29th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Cesar, a construction worker who asked that we not use his last name, tells The Florida Independent he has not been paid after working eight weeks at a construction project in the Broward County city of Sunrise. He says at least 50 workers who work 10 hours or more a day on this project have not received their wages for anywhere from three weeks to two months. #

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Florida religious group to state Senate: save anti-wage theft protections

Posted on: April 22nd, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

People Engaged in Active Community Efforts — aka P.E.A.C.E., a coalition of religious congregations from Palm Beach county — this week delivered a letter urging members of the state Senate Judiciary committee to vote against a bill that would curtail local municipalities’ freedom to crack down on wage theft. The vote happens Monday.

The Republican majority in the state House Judiciary committee voted last week to support the House version of the “Wage Protection Act,” which would prohibit a city or county from enforcing or passing an anti-wage theft ordinance like Miami-Dade County’s existing measure that helps workers who have been stiffed of their earned wages by dishonest employers.

In October 2010, Palm Beach county commissioners ordered staff to draft a similar ordinance, but in February 2011 they decided to wait on the outcome of a court challenge brought by the Florida Retail Federation against the Miami-Dade County anti-wage theft ordinance.

The P.E.A.C.E. letter to Senate members adds:

The reasoning that SB 982 is needed to promote uniformity of law around the state is a weak argument with no foundation whatsoever. Should we pass laws establishing that all building codes be the same throughout the state? How about zoning laws? Different communities face different challenges, and here in Palm Beach County we desperately want to be able to establish a viable remedy against the grave problem of wage theft. A local wage theft ordinance provides a process to do so.

We have asked Senator Anitere Flores to attach an amendment to SB 982 that would exempt counties like Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, who either have an Ordinance, or are in the process of adopting one. Senator, we are asking that on Monday morning, you primarily oppose SB 982 in its current format. In the event that you perceive it is moving forward, we would ask instead that you vote in favor of the bill with the amendment. We hope that we are allowed the opportunity to locally address this critical problem, as we have been seeking to do for nearly two years. [Read the full letter below.]

Business and construction groups, which support the Senate and House bills, point to the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach as one organization already capable of dealing with wage theft claims.

Mike Jones — director of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, one of 29 groups that belong to the Business Forum of Palm Beach — recently told The Florida Independent that the Business Forum has raised more than $1,100 in an effort to support Legal Aid.

Jones, added, “We do not believe adopting a new ordinance and a new claims process is going to address the problem. Currently there are legitimate claims and the claimants are not getting redress. They need someone like Legal Aid who is familiar with the law is and can assist them. If they can, they will handle the case for them at no cost or if they can’t they will address them to an attorney who is willing to take on the case at no cost.”

Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who is also an attorney and voted against the bill in the House, explained that “if a worker does get in court and does prove their claim the attorney fees provision eclipse any wages they were owed.”

In letters to Palm Beach commissioners P.E.A.C.E. points out that filing a claim in court can take up to eight to 10 months and cost anywhere from $80 to $330 dollars, “which is no where near a reality for a struggling low-wage earner.” (Read the full letters below.)

P.E.A.C.E. also points out that funding for Legal Aid from the business community that opposes the local ordinance while actively supporting the state bills that would limit local power creates a conflict of interest.

Letter to Senate Judiciary

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Letters to Palm Beach County Commissioners

South Florida organization presses for local anti-wage theft ordinance

Posted on: April 15th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Supporters of local anti-wage theft ordinances who also reject a state bill that would block those measures are working to make sure communities and local and state officials hear what they have to say. #
At least 1,400 members of the congregation-based organization PEACE (People Engaged in Active Community Efforts) were on hand Monday at Palm Beach Lakes High school to prompt state and local authorities to reject House Bill 241, which would render useless local anti-wage theft ordinances. #


Father John D’Mello told The Florida Independent that PEACE supports an anti-wage theft ordinance for Palm Beach County that would create an easy, quick and low-cost administrative process for workers to recover earned wages from dishonest employers. #


“Wage theft is a human problem,” PEACE has written. “Wage Theft may be viewed as  a legal problem. Wage Theft is also a moral problem. It is an injustice when employers continue to get away with not paying or underpaying their workers.” (Read the full document below.) #


D’Mello said that Palm Beach County Commissioners Paulette Burdick, Shelley Vana, Priscilla Taylor and Jess Santamaria agreed to write a letter telling legislators to stop House Bill 241 and its Senate counterpart. #


D’Mello said participants also discussed the need to add deterrents, in the form of penalties, to the local ordinance for employers who cheat workers out of their wages. #


The Republican majority in the House Judiciary Committee yesterday passed the House version of the bill. #


In an op-ed published by The Miami-Herald this Thursday, Jose Rodriguez, staff attorney at Florida Legal Services, wrote: #

In our overheated political climate almost everything is contested. But you’d think we could all agree that when somebody works they should get paid for it, and if they haven’t gotten paid, they should have a way to recover the wages they are owed. It’s good economics and, more important, it’s just plain fair. #


Apparently, some members of the Florida Legislature do not agree. They’ve introduced legislation (HB241/SB982) banning cities and counties from enacting laws that protect unpaid workers. This is an extraordinary incursion on the home-rule powers localities have to address problems affecting their communities. #

Miami-Dade County passed an anti-wage theft ordinance in February 2010. The Florida Retail Federation, which supports the proposed bill banning local wage theft ordinances, has challenged the constitutionality of the county’s measure in court. #


The Herald op-ed adds: #

For all the hype about how litigious our country is, the truth is that lawsuits are rarely an option for low-wage workers. The limited damages they would recover, combined with the time and expense in filing a lawsuit, mean that these workers can seldom find lawyers able to take their case. #

TOWARDS A MORAL WORKPLACE AND A MORAL ECONOMY
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Anti-wage theft activists say their support for Palm Beach ordinance unrelated to undocumented workers

Posted on: April 5th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

People Engaged in Active Community Efforts (aka PEACE) rejects the notion that they support a wage theft ordinance for Palm Beach County because it favors undocumented workers — contrary to recent claims by a powerful construction industry lobby group. #


PEACE is a congregation-based organization with more than 23 members of different religious denominations. #


Maxine Cheesman, PEACE member and attorney, tells The Florida Independent her group supports the Palm Beach ordinance because “the current process requires a lawsuit.” #


“A lot of times these are small claims, under $100, $200,” she says. “Even if they find a pro-bono lawyer to file the suit, you are looking at people who are living hand to mouth, so they are waiting six moths, a year, to get $200. How does [that] help them?” #


Carol Bowen, director of government affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, recently told the Independent that PEACE supports this ordinance because undocumented workers are afraid to use existing law. #


Cheesman says ordinance opponents are trying to push this argument as something limited to undocumented workers because they feel Americans will support it. She says that fear does exist, but emphasizes that the ordinance applies to anyone who has been a victim of wage theft. #


“There is a loophole in the law that cover certain employers and some of them are exempt,” Cheesman says. “There are certain thresholds that may or may not be achieved by employers before you can bring [a wage theft] lawsuit.” #


If passed, the Palm Beach wage theft ordinance would protect local restaurant and construction workers, among others, from employers who do not pay agreed-upon wages for work done through an administrative process to make the claim easier on workers. #


The ordinance faces the opposition of Associated Builders, a powerful 30-member statewide construction coalition that supports a bill filed by state Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, that would preempt any local wage theft ordinance. #


Bowen also said that Associated Builders is working with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County to address wage theft violation cases. #


“I support Legal Aid, but it doesn’t change the process from a civil process to an administrative process,” Cheesman says. #


“The model we are considering would have the Office of Equal Opportunity administer the proposed ordinance, with no added cost to the county,” Cheesman says, adding that “they are already doing discrimination and other employment cases.” #


Father John D’Mello, also a member of PEACE, tells the Independent the group wants a fast and free track for workers who are cheated out of their wages. #


“The current civil litigation process could cost up to $150 and take up to six months,” D’Mello says. “If you’re fighting for $400 or $500 it’s not worth it.” #


“We have Florida Minimum Wage Act and Fair Labor Standards Act, which don’t cover many cases,” D’Mello says. “Current laws don’t cover all cases. They don’t cover small construction businesses, small restaurants, house workers, nursing homes, plant nurseries — all these people are excluded.” #


D’Mello says that over the last 15 months, there have been at least 2,000 wage theft violations cases in Palm Beach County, adding that wage theft is an epidemic at the local, state and national level. #

Builders group defends support for wage theft bill

Posted on: March 31st, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Carol Bowen, director of government affairs for Florida’s Associated Builders and Contractors, confirmed yesterday that her organization is a member of a coalition of construction groups, with at least 30 members involved in all aspects of building and contracting, that supports the “Wage Protection” bill filed by state Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, and opposes a proposed Palm Beach County wage theft ordinance.

Goodson’s bill would stop cities and counties from passing local laws to help workers recover wages they are cheated out of by employers.

“We are without a doubt against wage theft,” Bowen said. “People who underpay should be punished. They hurt business. There are unscrupulous contractors who low-bid because they plan not to pay their employees, but we believe in streamlined processes and state and federal law already have the authority to deal with these issues.”

Bowen said that after working with the coalition, the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach has agreed to address wage theft claims and seek resolution.

“The white-collar criminal division of the attorney general is aware of wage theft and agreed to monitor the situation and work with Legal Aid to handle the cases appropriately,” she said. “This tells me that the existing laws allow the people affected to bring their claims. … We don’t need additional government offices.”

Bowen said Associated Builders is worried that members who work throughout the state would need a full-time department to learn all 67 ordinances and processes.

Jeanette Smith, executive director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, a member organization of the South Florida Wage Theft Task Force, wrote The Florida Independent via email about a local wage theft rule passed in Miami-Dade County that would be threatened by Goodson’s bill. She wrote:

There seems to be some confusion about the purpose of the Miami-Dade ordinance. The ordinance does not establish a new regulation but simply sets up an accessible process to address local wage theft cases that do not fall under the jurisdiction of existing federal laws. It’s the most basic of agreements — people complete their work and should be paid for that work.

When asked if the laws cited by the Goodson bill protect local workers, Bowen said Associated Builders research, as well as conversations with Legal Aid and other attorneys, shows that current state and federal laws cover employees in Florida at any level.

Jose Rodriguez, staff attorney for Florida Legal Services, a member of the South Florida Wage Theft Task Force, recently wrote to the Independent via email:

[Goodson's bill] cites the federal and state minimum wages – both, even if properly enforced, leave large segments of the working population unprotected – and then cites a number of other federal wage and hour laws all of which are tangential at best since they only apply to either contractors doing business with the federal government or to industries employing farm labor.

Asked about a November 2010 Florida International University/Research Institute for Social and Economic Policy study that shows the construction industry ranks among the top three for reported wage theft claims, Bowen said she was not privy to any data.

“I can speak for ABC members: Any scrupulous employer will not participate in wage theft,” she says. “Those that do this are not members of associations, they are out there by themselves.”

Associated Builders and Contractors voices support for Florida wage theft bill

Posted on: March 30th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida has launched a campaign to support the “Wage Protection” bill filed by state Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, which would override local wage theft ordinances like one in Miami-Dade County that aims to prevent employers from cheating workers out of pay they are owed. #


When accessed this morning, the Associated Builders and Contractors website said the group #

supports the Wage Protection Bill HB 241 (Goodson) /SB 982 (Norman) that is currently making its way through the legislative processes. This legislation would preempt the 67 different counties in Florida from instituting unnecessary and duplicative wage theft ordinances to address the occurrence of non-payment or underpayment of wages earned. #


For the record, ABC is against wage theft. We believe that an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay. However, we also believe that there are existing federal and state laws that appropriately and effectively regulate wage and hour disputes between employer and employee. We believe it is therefore unnecessary and disastrous to allow the individual counties to create additional regulatory bodies to address these claims. #

Those paragraphs have since been pulled from the organization’s website — the page now says “the issue has been deactivated.” Here’s a screenshot of the page taken this morning: #

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Builders and Contractors defines itslef as “the AMA, AARP or NRA of the construction industry. ABC has full-time professional legislative staff to interface with all levels of government (local, state and federal), protecting you and your business’ rights in legislative and regulatory areas.” #


Jeanette Smith, executive director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, a member organization of the South Florida Wage Theft Task Force writes The Florida Independent via email: #

While we appreciate the position of the Associated Builders and Contractors Of Florida that they are against wage theft, as any ethical businesses should be, there seems to be some confusion about the purpose of the Miami-Dade ordinance. The ordinance, which follows a nationwide trend to address wage theft, does not establish a new regulation but simply sets up an accessible process to address local wage theft cases that do not fall under the jurisdiction of existing federal laws. It’s the most basic of agreements — people complete their work and should be paid for that work. We would hope that the Associated Builders and Contractors would speak out against wage theft and champion any attempts to address it since, sadly, the construction industry suffers from particularly high levels of wage theft that undermine the business opportunities of “good” employers. #

Cynthia Hernandez, associate researcher at Florida International University’s Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy (aka RISEP), tells the Independent that statewide, the construction industry holds third place in the number of reported wage theft violation cases. #


A RISEP November 2010 report on the impact of the Miami-Dade County wage theft ordinance shows that the construction industry is second in the number of wage theft violations in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. #


“I’m a businessman with four companies,” state Rep. Goodson told the Independent in February. “I work in four different counties — Brevard, Orange, Volusia and Indian River — and I don’t need four local wage theft ordinances to deal with.” #

Palm Beach delays wage theft vote pending resolution of Florida Retail Federation lawsuit

Posted on: February 3rd, 2011 by Mary Tuma No Comments

The Palm Beach Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday delayed a vote on a wage theft ordinance that would establish “a procedure for employees victims of wage theft to recover back wages” till June 21. #


The board instructed the county attorney to continue to draft the ordinance and track the outcome of a constitutional challenge filed by the Florida Retail Federation against Miami-Dade County’s wage theft ordinance, which prevents employers from cheating workers out of wages they are owed. #


The commission agenda shows that: #

The issue of wage theft was brought before the Board on October 19, 2010. At that meeting the Board directed the County Attorney to draft a wage theft for preliminary reading. The Ordinance provides for a definition of wage theft and procedures for the filing, conciliation and hearing of wage theft complaints. #

The Palm Beach Post reported: #

Commissioners said the delay would allow them to review the outcome of the Miami-Dade case before making a final decision. #

“I want to make sure that whatever ordinance we finally enact, it will stand up legally in a court of law,” Commissioner Jess Santamaria said. “We don’t want to have an ordinance that in the end is invalidated under normal legal process.” #


A November 2010 RISEP Florida International University report on wage theft using data from El Sol Neighborhood Resource Center (2006-2010) located in Jupiter and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Work and Hours Division (2008-2010) shows that Palm Beach county workers reported almost 1,100 cases of wage theft. #


The report also indicates that over $940,000 were paid in back wages to Palm beach County workers, but “this assuredly is less than the total amount of wages lost by employees reporting their cases of wage violations to the [Work and Hours Division (aka the WHD)], because a large percentage of South Florida’s agriculture and service workforce are employed in workplaces that are excluded from federal and state labor laws and, consequently, fall outside the jurisdiction of the WHD.” #


The Post also reported that “the Business Forum of Palm Beach County, made up of roughly 30 different groups including the Economic Council and the Business Development Board,” opposes the wage theft ordinance because it would add to the county’s budget and “federal and state laws already provide employees protection.” #


State Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, who filed a bill that would render local wage theft ordinances useless, also says that federal and state laws protect workers against wage theft violation, a statement disputed by members of the South Florida Wage Theft Task Force. #


A large number of members of People Engaged in Active Community Efforts (aka PEACE) attended the Palm Beach County Commission meeting to continue their support for passage of the wage theft ordinance. PEACE “is a congregation-based community organization charged with the mission of effectively fighting injustices in the communities of Palm Beach County.” #


Last week, Father John D’Mello of St. Ann Catholic Church in downtown West Palm Beach and a member of PEACE, wrote in the Palm Beach Post: #

At its most blatant, wage theft consists of hiring short-term laborers and disappearing when it’s time to pay them. But it can mean unpaid overtime or other violations of wage-and-hour laws or contracts. The U.S. Department of Labor has only four wage-and-hour investigators, and their jurisdiction extends only to businesses having $5 million or more in revenue. Florida has no department of labor. Palm Beach County’s Office of Equal Opportunity gets at least a complaint a week about wage theft, but it lacks authority to act. #

In theory, if an employer robs you, you can take him or her to small claims court. In practice, that can cost up to $300, and taking time off to pursue the issue can cost victims, in lost wages, the rest they hoped to recover. Victims see the process as hopeless, so they endure the loss. #