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Why We Need a Wage Theft Ordinance
Wage theft, or the unlawful payment of wages owed, is becoming an epidemic in Palm Beach County. Thousands of hotel, service, restaurant, landscape, and day laborers are going unpaid after a hard day's work.
This problem rose to the top of PEACE's concerns during the listening process last fall in which hundreds of Palm Beach County residents took part in voicing their concerns to their congregations. The group then gathered and voted in the issue of wage theft as top priority for the upcoming year. Since then PEACE has been conducting extensive research, meeting with stakeholders in the community and speaking with experts in other parts of the country to understand what can be done locally to alleviate the problem.
PEACE found that no viable local solution existed. Law enforcement has no jurisdiction over wage theft cases because they are a civil matter. A victim of wage theft could file a complaint in small claims court; however, that option costs as much as $300 (not even counting attorney fees) - which in many cases represents more than the workers have been cheated out of. The Federal Department of Labor has a Wage and Hour Division in Miami which receives cases, yet they are ill equipped to act on them with just 4 investigators for the entire South Florida region. Even more startling is the fact that Florida has no state level Department of Labor.
Harry Lamb, the director of the County's Office of Equal Opportunity says that he is indeed familiar with the issue of wage theft. He receives at least one case a week but is unable to help.
Miami-Dade County, which likewise has a grave problem with wage theft, has taken a step towards justice for their workers. Just in February the county passed an ordinance that would penalize unscrupulous employers that cheated their employees.
At our Nehemiah Action Assembly on April 19th, PEACE received commitments from Commissioners Vana, Koons, Santamaria, and Taylor to begin the initial steps towards having a county ordinance that would allow workers to file complaints, free of charge, at the county's Office of Equal Opportunity.