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Rejoice!  There's one place in a reddish-purple state that remains a bastion of liberalism in protecting the working man's rights and it's the Miami-Dade County Commission that approved the county mayor's proposed budget that includes funding to enforce its wage theft ordinance.

In a time when Republicans are waging a War on the Working Class, one governmental agency joined forces with the US Dept. of Labor to develop a statute to protect the most vulnerable -- the laborer.  The Wage Theft ordinance has been on the books just over a year (since February 2010).  It is the first countywide anti-wage theft law in Florida.  In its first year, 662 claims were processed and $1,760,177 in stolen wages was recovered.  A similar ordinance is currently being drafted for Palm Beach County, home to Big Sugar and much of the tomato farms that supply national fast food chains.


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The ordinance is aimed at the biggest abusers of labor in SoFla, the restaurant, food (agriculture), construction, health care, and social assistance industries.  On the other side of the coin, it's aimed to protect workers who are "not covered under federal wage and hour laws."  Miami-Dade County’s Small Business Division (SBD) enforces this ordinance as well as the county’s Living Wage Ordinance.

Here's a typical case from recent wage protection activity in Miami.

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.


[Overall] 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.”

Another case that demonstrates the clout behind such ordinances involves Broward County construction workers and highlights abuse of undocumented workers in some companies' hiring practices.  Florida Shell Construction refused to issue checks for work performed unless those workers could show papers proving their eligibility to work.  The company had made no such demand at the time it hired the laborers.  Checks and payments were made only after workers contacted the Florida Independent and the South Florida Wage Theft Task Force.  While not all the workers' wages have been paid, those who have not are being informed about how to take action to get the money due them.

Florida International University, located in Miami, supports research into labor practices via the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy.  Its report, "Wage Theft in Florida: A Real Problem with Real Solutions," (pdf) describes how the Miami-Dade County ordinance works.

The SBD established a review and implementation process that first attempts to conciliate any claims by notifying the employer of the filed claim and asking both parties to provide supporting documents.  The burden of proof is on the employer: if he or she has not maintained payment records (which is a violation of FLSA), the records of the employee are used and may include notes kept or sworn statements from co-workers and others.  Should SBD staff be unable to conciliate a claim, the case is set with a hearing examiner.  The hearing examiners are retained to adjudicate a series of cases one day a month.  If a hearing examiner finds an employer guilty of wage theft, the employer will not only be liable for the original wages owed, but will also be liable for an additional amount equal to two times the wages owed as compensation to the worker.  This not only makes the worker “whole,” it also sends a deterrent message to other businesses that routinely steal wages. Additionally, the employer will be liable to the county for the cost of the hearing examiner.  The threshold for filing a claim is $60 of unpaid wages, a day’s work for some domestic workers and day laborers, and there is no cost for filing a claim. The Miami-Dade Wage Theft Ordinance covers all workers, including those who are not covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
So, we see an example of legislation that works, enforcement that works, and a government that works by funding laws and regulations designed to protect people and promote the tenets found in the Preamble of the Constitution.  That's the America I want to take my country back to.

Does your local/regional government have such an ordinance?  How aware are workers in your area of such protective laws, if they exist?  What can you do to raise workers' awareness of such laws (again, if they exist) in your community?  What can you do to encourage your local/regional/state governments to enact such ordinances and statutes where they don't exist?

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Originally posted to Limelite on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 11:42 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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