Imagine you discover a child trapped in a deep hole, crying for help. What would you do? Most people would interrupt their schedules to help the child. Imagine now, that instead of a child, it is an entire group of people trapped in the hole. What should we do? I write today about good, hardworking citizens and residents in Florida trapped in a different kind of hole, a hole of poverty and despair caused by greed. They are victims of an injustice called Wage Theft.
Here in Florida, victims of wage theft most often work in the construction, retail and hospitality sectors. Some workers do not get paid at all. More commonly employers withhold wages, saying “I can’t pay you this week, but I promise I’ll pay you next week.” The worker returns because she has no other place to work, but most importantly because she’s owed money. This is an injustice. Worse yet, the victims of this injustice did not have a proper legal process to claim their stolen wages.
Thankfully, some very good people recognized there was a hole trapping these hard working people, and they did something about it. In 2010, Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance against Wage Theft and developed a legal process for people to file a claim against an employer for stolen wages. The ordinance is designed to help the low wage earner file a claim for as low as $60.
Miami-Dade County has managed to recover more than $400,000 for over 300 workers with additional funds pending. Yet, there’s another $1.7 million in claims that have not been fully processed yet. The calls keep coming in every week. The residents of Miami–Dade County should be proud of this ordinance helping residents collect what they have earned.
Sadly, there are people and organizations trying to undo this ordinance, and prevent other counties from establishing similar ordinances. If passed, these bills would make it more difficult for people to retrieve their stolen wages. The bill is supported by the Florida Retail Federation and sponsored by Sen. David Simmons from Orlando and Rep. Tom Goodson from Titusville.
Simmons and Goodson are working to silent the cries for help from the people that fall into the hole of wage theft. Goodson and Simmons would never admit that they condone wage theft, but their actions speak otherwise. For those of us looking from a distance, what will our action be?
Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance in 2010 that is a good remedy to the problem of wage theft, a remedy that should be replicated in other counties. We cannot allow the Florida Retail Federation remove this legal process and keep people in a hole of despair.
If passed, it would be an injustice the Christian Church cannot accept. In the face of injustice, the Christian Church is called to stand for those who are oppressed and exploited. From the liberating words of Moses to the teachings of Jesus, the Christian Church has the Biblical mandate to stand up to injustice and help those who are being persecuted and oppressed.
The Rev. Guillermo Marquez-Sterling is the Associate Pastor at Coral Gables Congregational – United Church of Christ. Faith leaders in Florida are working with South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice to stop this immoral legislation protecting unscrupulous employers.