Inform Article

Understanding Wage Theft

Posted by Emily Small of People Engaged in Active Community Efforts (PEACE)

Wage theft is defined as the unlawful underpayment or non-payment of workers’ wages.  It is PEACE’s newest issue after 400 members voted it in in the fall of 2009.

Wage theft is running rampant throughout Palm Beach County.  Typical cases of wage theft include the day laborer demographic.  These are folks that usually get picked up for work under no formal contract and are dropped off at the end of the day with either no payment, very little, or other forms of compensation such as food or clothing.

In cities like Charlotte, Nashville, New Orleans, and regions like North Alabama and South Georgia, 41% of immigrant workers have experienced wage theft.  20.4% of our county is made up of immigrants – meaning that the wage theft problem is likely to be worse in our region of Palm Beach County.  However, wage theft occurs to not only immigrants but employees within the restaurant, hotel, and service industry.  In fact, the largest dollar amount is stolen from this labor pool.  In Palm Beach County, we have 126,248 employees that work in this field that need protection!

There is no recourse for a worker that suffers wage theft.  Wage theft falls outside of law enforcement jurisdiction and filing a small claims suit is more than one can afford, up to $300.  The State of Florida has NO Department of Labor, and the Federal Department of Labor, located in Miami, has only four investigators for the entire South Florida region. This means that there are four people to cover a population of more than 5 million, and more than 6 thousand square miles.

The Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity receives at least one case a week that they must refer out to the Department of Labor on wage theft because it falls outside of their jurisdiction.  This does not encompass those who are too afraid to come forward due to the fear of retaliation. The facts are alarming. According to the Department of Labor, 7 out of 10 employers are found out of compliance with wage and hour laws.

PEACE members are standing up to the injustice of wage theft in Palm Beach County. On April 19th, 1,500 people turned out to face the Board of County Commissioners and pushed for a local ordinance against wage theft. This ordinance would allow victims of wage theft to place a complaint into the county’s Office of Equal and allow a vehicle for payment of wages owed.