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Thou Shalt Not Steal

17 Nov

By Jeanette Smith, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, Member of Florida Wage Theft Task Force 

Today marks one year since Miami-Dade County publicly declared a Day Against Wage Theft. Wage theft, or the nonpayment of wages earned, affects us all. Families suffer when earnings are too low to meet basic needs. Local businesses and economies are denied vital stimulus that would flow from the additional spending of workers had they been paid their earned salaries. Honest businesses are undermined by unscrupulous competitors who practice wage theft. Government at all levels is affected, as they are denied tax revenues generated by higher earnings and when many working families must resort to public programs to survive.

Last year, our County adopted an unprecedented ordinance to protect workers from wage theft, the first one in Florida and model legislation for many other communities throughout the country. Thanks to it, in only one year the County’s Wage Theft Program collected over $350,000 in unpaid wages through conciliation, and since January, over $415,000 has been awarded to workers through administrative hearings.

The victims of wage theft have ranged from construction workers to teachers to home health care workers and others. Claims have been as low as sixty dollars and as high as thousands of dollars. Mayor Carlos Gimenez recently lauded the program as “an effective tool for promoting economic security and dignity”. With the over one million dollars in claims still pending, it is obvious that wage theft is an epidemic in our community.

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