For Immediate Release, October 24, 2012
Contacts: Natalia Jaramillo (786) 317-3524, Jeanette Smith (305) 598-1404
Broward County is the second in Florida to protect workers’ salaries and side with honest businesses
Broward, FL – Yesterday evening, the Broward County Board of Commissioners stood up for workers and honest businesses by approving a Wage Recovery Ordinance. With a 7-2 vote, the Ordinance initially proposed by Vice-Mayor Kristin Jacobs creates a resource for thousands of workers in Broward County who currently have nowhere to turn when they do not receive their earned wages.
Broward is now officially the second county in Florida to implement this program, after Miami-Dade which passed the first Ordinance in 2010 and so far has been able to recover $511,429.26 in unpaid wages through conciliation. Florida stands as one of the worst states in the country when it comes to wage theft cases -which include workers who are not paid overtime or minimum wage, are forced to work off the clock, or are not paid at all-, due to the lack of a state level Department of Labor and a high percentage of workers who are not covered by federal wage and hour laws. Broward County currently has the third largest number in the state with nearly 5,000 cases only in the last three years.
“I was at the meeting yesterday asking Commissioners to vote yes for the Ordinance, speaking on behalf of my close friends who are victims of wage theft in our county and haven’t been able to recover their wages after months of effort,” says Maria Isabel Fernandez, a resident of Dania Beach in Broward County. “I was thrilled when the Ordinance passed! It may be too late for my friends, but it will help other people like them in the future who will now have the possibility of recovering the salaries they earned through their work without having to hire a lawyer and wait months without any income.”
Along with Maria Isabel, over 16 speakers signed up for public input, including community members and advocates. Representatives of business associations and chambers, as well as some Commissioners, insisted on dismissing the magnitude of the problem saying there were only “a few bad apples,” that federal laws were already in place to protect the majority of workers, and that all Broward needed was to send wage theft victims to legal aid program to utilize the existing court system.
Fortunately, experts on the issue were available in the room to correct those misunderstandings. The County Attorney confirmed state and federal laws do not cover all workers, and when they do, they are not covered equally either. One of the speakers commented, “if this ordinance wasn’t necessary, why has Miami-Dade been able to recover so much in unpaid wages with its ordinance?”
“We understand some business owners may need more education on wage and hour laws, but that should not be at the expense of workers who are not being paid and have no reasonable way to recover the salaries they need to subsist. What we don’t understand is why some business associations are so intensely opposed to an Ordinance that will protect honest businesses and will put money in the pockets of Broward consumers, which will positively affect Broward’s overall economy?”, says Jeanette Smith, Director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, a member of the Florida Wage Theft task Force, a coalition of organizations that has worked closely with workers and community groups to support the Ordinances in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and now in Broward.
Francesca Menes, from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, also a member of the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, added, “this is a great step forward for Broward County and for Florida as a whole! Even beyond the positive impact on our local economy, this Ordinance sends a clear message that not paying workers is not acceptable and honest businesses are valued and protected against those that want to cheat to compete”.
Interfaith Worker Justice has been organizing, educating and advocating at the intersection of work and faith since 1996. To learn more about the national campaign to end wage theft, visit www.iwj.org.