Broward County Commissioners will vote Tuesday on a Wage Recovery Ordinance that could help thousands of workers who are not paid for their work. Florida is currently the 15th worst state in the country when it comes to helping workers recover their earned pay, and Broward County has the state’s third largest number of cases.
The magnitude of the problem led commissioners in Miami-Dade County to pass a similar law in 2010, with great results. It has helped over 600 workers who couldn’t afford to pay their rent or buy food for their children when they didn’t get their full paycheck, and who were not in a position to get an attorney, pay court filing fees, and wait months or years for their pay.
Unfortunately, Florida is one of only two states without a Department of Labor to which a worker can turn for recourse when he or she is not paid. Also, Florida’s existing laws apply only to minimum wage and overtime cases. The majority of Florida’s workers are left on their own when they don’t get paid.
Recently, 47 employees who were not covered under any federal wage protection laws but who were covered under the Miami-Dade County ordinance, were able to recover $147,777 in unpaid salaries. I doubt that most of us would feel that a price tag of less than $100,000 to establish a wage recovery program in Broward is too much.
As we emerge from this economic crisis, local government can protect workers and businesses from an unfair practice that hurts us all. Why should an ethical business owner have to stand next to a pirate that underpays or doesn’t pay his employees, someone who underbids on jobs because he is planning to stiff his employees? Protecting workers is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for business and for the community.
The Broward County Commission should be commended for sending a clear message to anyone who wants to do business in Broward County: We’re an honest community and we want honest companies.
Jeanette Smith, Executive Director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, a member of the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, Miami