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Broward, second County in Florida to take action against Wage Theft!

Another victory against wage theft!!!

Yesterday evening, the Broward County Board of Commissioners stood up for workers and honest businesses by approving a Wage Recovery Ordinance that will help thousands of workers in Broward County who currently have nowhere to turn when they are not paid.

Broward is now officially the second county in Florida to implement this program. Miami-Dade passed the first Ordinance in Florida back in 2010 and so far has been able to recover $511,429.26 in unpaid wages through conciliation.

Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of work to do. Florida is still one of the worst states in the country when it comes to wage theft cases -which include workers who are not paid overtime or minimum wage, are forced to work off the clock, or are not paid at all. Why? Because there is no state level Department of Labor and a vast majority of workers are not covered by federal wage and hour laws. Broward County, alone, has the third largest number in the state with nearly 5,000 cases only in the last three years.

Isabel Fernandez, from Dania Beach, FL at the Broward Commission meeting

I was at the meeting yesterday asking Commissioners to vote yes for the Ordinance, speaking on behalf of my close friends who are victims of wage theft in our county and haven’t been able to recover their wages after months of effort,” says Maria Isabel Fernandez, a resident of Dania Beach in Broward County. “I was thrilled when the Ordinance passed! It may be too late for my friends, but it will help other people like them in the future who will now have the possibility of recovering the salaries they earned through their work without having to hire a lawyer and wait months without any income.”

Along with Maria Isabel, over 16 speakers signed up for public input, including community members and advocates. Representatives of business associations and chambers, as well as some Commissioners, insisted on dismissing the magnitude of the problem saying there were only “a few bad apples,” that federal laws were already in place to protect the majority of workers, and that all Broward needed to do was to provide legal aid for those workers who wanted to take their case to the already busy court system.

Luckily some experts in the room were able to correct those misunderstandings. But the best remark was done by one of the participants in the public, “if this ordinance wasn’t necessary, why has Miami-Dade been able to recover so much in unpaid wages with its ordinance?

These victory is thanks to the work of the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, a coalition of organizations and people that work day and night to stop the epidemic of wage theft in the sunshine state. Congratulations team!!!

As we said, the work has just begun! Still thousands of workers in our state work without being paid enough or at all.

We need to STOP WAGE THEFT, and you can help us!

If you or someone you know has been a victim of wage theft, share your story with us. Post a comment on our Facebook page, or send us an e-mail: francesca@floridaimmigrant.org

Thou Shalt Not Steal

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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Labor Pains: How Our Broken Immigration System Hurts All Workers

*Re-posted from Immigration Impact*

Immigrant_Worker_Protest_3

By TYLER MORAN

While most employers are law-abiding, some unscrupulous employers have a secret weapon for keeping down wages and working conditions—our broken immigration system. Bad apple employers hire undocumented immigrants, subject them to unsafe working conditions, pay them less than the market wage, or don’t pay them at all. If undocumented workers file a labor complaint or try to form a union, the employer will threaten them with deportation or even call DHS to have the workers deported. Then the workers are whisked into detention or out of the country before they can seek remedies for the labor violations. Most employers don’t get punished for their misconduct, which puts unscrupulous employers at a competitive advantage over law-abiding employers.

Why is this bad for all workers, including U.S. citizens? Easy-to-exploit undocumented immigrants under the constant threat of deportation are forced to accept sub-standard working conditions. This spills over to authorized workers who must also accept these conditions or risk losing their jobs. This also undercuts union organizing. Undocumented coworkers have fewer legal avenues for redress of labor violations and far less incentive to participate in collective efforts to improve conditions at the workplace.

A recent report by the National Employment Law Project found a slew of labor and employment law violations in low-wage industries in three of the nation’s largest cities:

* At least 26% of workers surveyed were paid less than the legally required minimum wage the previous week, 60% of whom were underpaid by more than $1 per hour.

* More than a quarter of workers surveyed worked more than 40 hours the previous week and 76% of whom were not paid the required overtime rate.

* 41% of workers surveyed had illegal deductions taken out of their paychecks for reasons such as damage, loss, work-related tools or materials.

* 43% of workers who filed a complaint to their employers or attempted to form a union suffered illegal retaliation from their employers—such as being fired or suspended, cut wages and hours and threats of deportation.

* Of the 8% of workers surveyed who filed a serious injury claim, 50% experienced illegal employer reactions.

The Drum Major Institute argues that all workers benefit from a strengthening of workplace rights for immigrants. In fact, they find that undocumented workers’ ability to improve their own working conditions would benefit all workers by making jobs more desirable, which translates into more jobs that can support a middle-class standard of living. The Immigration Policy Center also reports that lack of legal status makes unauthorized workers extremely vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous employers, and at the same time jeopardizes the competitiveness of those employers who try to follow the law.

As immigration reform hovers on the horizon, we should learn a lesson from the failure of our current broken immigration system and ineffective worksite enforcement policy. Not only does current policy fail to address the economic incentive that employers have to hire undocumented workers, but it has allowed unscrupulous employers to gain an unfair advantage and use immigration law to drive down the wages and working conditions of all workers.

Worksite enforcement will be part of comprehensive immigration reform. However, the real answer to “enforcement” at the worksite is making sure all workers can exercise their labor rights, increasing enforcement of labor and employment laws, and closing the gaping loophole that allows immigration enforcement to trump labor law enforcement. Policymakers need to take on this critical issue. Otherwise, the employment rights of all of us are at risk.

Tyler Moran is Policy Director at the National Immigration Law Center.

FLIC Update!

Since its incorporation in November 2003, FLIC has experienced tremendous growth. Below is a snapshot of what the members groups of the Florida Immigrant Coalition are working on throughout the state in 2009.

You can join the efforts by supporting the issue campaigns or by participating in the local coalitions:

ISSUE CAMPAIGNS:

LEGALIZATION: As part of a consultative process that included surveys, small group work and voting at the annual membership meeting, FLIC member groups endorsed legalization as the primary effort. This means we will be educating our members, allies and decisionmakers about the need for reform that values immigration as an opportunity and not a threat and that respects families and workers–both immigrant and U.S.-born.

  • How to plug in: contact Juan Pablo (juanpablo@floridaimmigrant.org) about organizing for legislative visits or building your organizing circle and reaching out to allies.

ENFORCEMENT: Misguided and heavy-handed enforcement of broken immigration laws, including police enforcement of immigration comes at a great cost to our coffers, public safety and civil liberties. FLIC member groups are working in six counties to dissuade local police to divert their public safety missions to immigration functions. FLIC member groups are educating immigrants, documenting abuses and beginning visitation programs to detention centers.

  • How to plug in: contact Subhash (subhash@floridaimmigrant.org) about meeting with your local sheriff and submitting records release requests, conducting “train the trainers” know your rights presentations or visiting detainees at the Broward Transitional Center.

ACCESS TO COLLEGE: Students Working for Equal Rights (S.W.E.R.) came out of FLIC’s commitment to youth leadership. This effort seeks to educate students, parents and educational professionals about access to college, incentivizing participation through an internship and scholarship fund, as well as organizing to reduce barriers at the academic institutional level at the state and federal legislative level.

  • How to plug in: contact Jose Luis (swer@floridaimmigrant.org) about joining the advisory body or supporting the upcoming statewide student tour.

WAGE THEFT: The South Florida Wage Theft Task Force is one of several coalitions statewide that seeks to support workers who do not get paid for their work. These efforts seek to create a systemic enforcement mechanism that bolsters the rights of all workers while recovering their lost wages.

  • How to plug in: contact Maria (maria@floridaimmigrant.org) about supporting a Miami-Dade ordinance to include worker rights so that a local human rights board can provide wage enforcement.

RELIEF FOR HAITIANS: Haitians deserve relief from deportation to miserable conditions by either a temporary protected status (TPS) or deferred enforced detention(DED).

  • How to plug in: contact Francesca (Francesca@floridaimmigrant.org) to help bring the reality of Haitian detainees to national attention by reaching out to national allies.

Join Our Local Coalitions Throughout Florida!

FLIC is proud to announce that we have kicked off our campaign to Stop the ICE raids and win just and humane immigration reform. This strategy includes legislative, community organizing and direct action components, which are being planned and implemented by regional coalitions in Orlando, Miami, Palm Beach and Manasota. Please join us!