South Florida Justice and Equality in the Workplace Coalition Comes Together to Protect Vulnerable Workers & Call Attention to Wage Theft
[MIAMI, Fla.]- A National Day of Action Against Wage Theft has been called for November 18, 2016 with actions to be held across the country calling attention to wage theft, the illegal underpayment or non-payment of workers' wages.
Billions of dollars are stolen from workers across the country when employers pay less than minimum wage; refuse overtime pay; force workers to work off the clock; hold back final paychecks; misclassify employees as independent contractors; steal tips; or fail to pay workers at all.
Miami-Dade County, however, passed the first countywide Wage Theft Ordinance in the country in 2010 and has since awarded over 2.4 million dollars in unpaid wages and penalties to victims of wage theft.
According to Holly Beth Billington, a Consumer Advocate from the Office of Consumer Protection, which administers the County’s program, conciliations are one of the strengths of the local program as workers are able to receive their unpaid wages immediately.
“The number of successful conciliations is now far greater than the number of complaints referred to administrative hearings. As a result of the mediation expertise of the Office’s staff, more wage theft complainants are receiving funds in-hand following successful conciliations – as opposed to having to take on the task of collecting on an unsatisfied final order awarded at hearing.”
Despite the efforts of the County’s Wage Theft Program and the local office of the United States Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division, wage theft is still rampant across industries in Miami-Dade County.
Ezekiel, a construction worker, had worked for his employer for almost a year before he began to underpay him. After three weeks of being paid only $300-400 when he was owed $800, Ezekiel quit his job in frustration.
According to Sergio Gonzalez, a member of Iron Workers Local 272, workers within the construction industry join unions to protect themselves from some of the worst practices.
“I’ve worked in construction for thirty years. Conditions are getting worse unless you have a union to protect you. Workers are forced to work Saturdays and Sundays and if they don’t do it, the company lets them go. You don’t get paid overtime, just regular pay. There isn’t even water to drink and no one is following OSHA. That’s why there are so many accidents.”
Misclassification occurs when an employer misclassifies an employee as an independent contractor when he or she is actually an employee. Even though the state of Florida entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Internal Revenue Service to address this issue almost two years ago, misclassification is still a rampant form of wage theft in South Florida.
“Workers get to the end of the year and find out that they owe the government thousands of dollars because their employer never paid taxes,” says Elvis Montesano, another construction worker.
Often, according to Eduardo Leon, an organizer with Local 272, workers must use their child tax credit to offset the taxes owed to the IRS.
“This type of thing affects the economy directly, and leaves the worker with no hope. Sometimes his family even has to go on food stamps even though he’s working.”
Wage theft continues to be a problem in South Florida, affecting not just workers and their families, but also the wider community.
The South Florida Justice and Equality in the Workplace Program is a collaborative effort among U.S. government agencies, consulates of foreign governments, and U.S. community organizations to work together to assist vulnerable workers in our communities through educating employers and employees in the South Florida area about their rights and responsibilities in the workplace.
Member agencies, consulates, and organizations of the South Florida Justice and Equality in the Workplace Program include the U.S. Department of Labor through the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC); the Consulate General of Mexico in Miami, Florida; Consulate General of Guatemala in Miami, Florida; Consulate General of Uruguay in Miami, Florida; Consulate General of El Salvador in Miami, Florida; Consulate General of Haiti in Miami, Florida; the South Florida AFL-CIO; WeCount!; the American Friends Service Committee; UNITE HERE Local 355; the South Florida Chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement; South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice; LiUNA Local 1652; the Farmworkers Association of Florida; and Catholic Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami.