Jeanette Smith, Florida Wage Theft Task Force, (305) 598-1404
Natalia Jaramillo, Florida Immigrant Coalition, (786) 317-3524
Miami, September 23, 2011 – After a lengthy debate and vote by the Board of County Commissioners to approve a new Budget, the County’s Wage Theft Program avoided the sad fate that many basic social services, programs and organizations faced, and guaranteed its continuation.
The Wage Theft Program, that processes claims from workers who were not paid or were underpaid by unscrupulous employers, was initially included among the list of programs that would be understaffed by a lack of funds. The position of the sole designated staff person was set to be cut. However, not only were the program’s funds preserved, but Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez also acknowledged its value, praising a recent collaboration with the US Department of Labor.
“We are glad to see that our elected officials are deeply committed to protecting the rights of our County’s workers. In the middle of an economic and unemployment crisis, and with barely a year of existence, the Wage Theft Program has already helped hundreds of families recover the salaries they had fairly earned with hard work,” says Jeanette Smith from the Florida Wage Theft Task Force. “Our County simply could not afford to lose this program, which is so vital to keeping our economy alive.”
The Wage Theft Ordinance was approved February 28th, 2010 and fully implemented six months later within the Department of Small Business Development (SBD). In its first year it 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.
The Florida Wage Theft Task Force has been advocating for the preservation of the program as soon as the Budget was initially presented. “Since the program started, the number of workers filing claims has continued to grow as word of the program spreads,” says Smith. “These numbers not only represent how successful the program is, but also the real dimension of a problem that very few saw before.”
In a press statement released before the Budget hearing started, Mayor Gimenez praised the success of the Wage Theft Program and stated, “There is no lack of individuals needing help and we’re not going to use the lack of resources as an excuse for not doing what’s right.”
The Florida Wage Theft Task Force will continue to work closely with the County to ensure the success of the Wage Theft Program and has already helped to establish an internship program that will allow talented undergraduates and law students to work closely with the SBD to process wage theft cases. These types of community – government collaborations are particularly valuable during challenging economic times.
The Wage Theft Ordinance was first drafted by the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, a group of community organizations, labor unions, immigrant rights groups, faith based organizations, lawyers, and university researchers who recognized the need for action on this growing problem in Miami-Dade County and who worked with the Board of County Commissioners to pass the ordinance, which established the County’s Wage Theft Program in 2010.