Monday, February 22, 2010

Momentous Step Taken to End Wage Theft

Miami-Dade County Passes Historic Measure Poised to Inspire Other Communities

Miami-Dade County yesterday overwhelmingly passed the first county-wide ordinance in the country to combat wage theft, making it easier for workers to bring legal action against employers who fail to pay or underpay them.

“This is momentous,” said Jeanette Smith, Executive Director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice (SFIWJ). “The passing of this legislation will make a difference for every worker in Miami-Dade County and, hopefully, will encourage groups all over the country to establish similar mechanisms for workers in their communities.”

Thursday’s vote was the culmination of over a year of work by SFIWJ and the South Florida Wage Theft Task Force. Similar initiatives are being considered by states and cities across the country, including Los Angeles and New Orleans.

“This victory is a spark that will help ignite a wave across the country,” said Ted Smukler, Public Policy Director of Interfaith Worker Justice. “It is a shining example of many initiatives underway at the state and local levels to combat this crime, and demonstrates that there’s widespread political will when people are made aware of the extent of the crisis.”

“It’s a historic day for all Miami-Dade workers, employers who play by the rules, taxpayers, our economy, and our community, setting the precedent for the nation to follow,” said Fred Frost, President of the South Florida AFL-CIO and a member of the wage theft task force.

“This legislation will provide justice for exploited workers using a streamlined hearing examiner process, at very little cost to our county,” said Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners member Natacha Seijas, the measure’s principal sponsor. “I am very pleased that every colleague present today voted in favor of this Ordinance.”

“Recovering back wages owed workers will put more money in the local economy, send a message to crooked employers and create a more level playing field for honest employers,” read a Miami Herald editorial endorsing the ordinance, which the newspaper argued would “fill a vacuum” and “be a future deterrent.” “Employers would have to pay employment and workers' compensation taxes they're now avoiding, a burden for honest employers.”

“And now, the real work begins,” said SFIWJ’s Smith. “Tomorrow, we go out to the streets and we talk to workers. We visit congregations. We educate. We involve our community in a county-wide effort to implement this historic piece of legislation. The message is clear -- thou shalt not steal. Not in our community. Not anywhere.”

“When raising the minimum wage was blocked at the federal level for 12 years,” said IWJ’s Smukler, “people took action at the state level and were successful in winning state campaigns that raised the minimum wage above the federal level in a majority of states in the country, creating the momentum that eventually led to raising the national minimum wage in 2007. We believe that victories like today’s in Miami-Dade County can similarly inspire a wave of policy changes and legislation at the local, state, and ultimately federal levels, with the goal of ending wage theft in America.”


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