Issue in Focus

Wage Theft

Update: Nov. 23, 2011 -

Activists call on Macy's, Beall's to stop fighting ordinance cracking down on wage theft /via

Issue Overview

Wage theft is the unlawful underpayment or non-payment of workers' wages. In cities like Charlotte, Nashville, and New Orleans, and in regions like North Alabama and South Georgia, over 40% of immigrant workers have experienced wage theft. Over 20% of our county is made up of immigrants - this would translate to over 100,000 people in Palm Beach County who have likely experienced wage theft. According to the Department of Labor, 7 out of 10 employers are found out of compliance with wage and hour laws. (Department of Labor)

Wage theft occurs to not only immigrants but also to employees in the restaurant, hotel, and service industry. In fact, the largest dollar amount is stolen from this labor pool. Palm Beach County has 126,248 employees that work in this field.

Why does it matter to me?

Wage theft not only affects individuals who are not paid for ...

...their work; it also affects honest businesses. For instance, contractors who don't pay their employees can offer lower bids than honest contractors. Competing with low bids based on non-payment of workers can drive honest contractors out of business.

What can I do?

In 2009, local nonprofit PEACE (People Engaged in Active Community Efforts) proposed a solution to Palm Beach County's wage theft problem: a Wage Theft Ordinance that would establish a system to deal with wage theft disputes. However, business groups oppose the ordinance, and feel that enforcing existing laws makes more sense.


The case for a Wage Theft Ordinance

PEACE argues that the Dept. of Labor, who traditionally handles such complaints, doesn't have the manpower to handle wage theft problems across all of South Florida. (There are 4 investigators in Miami, who cover a population of more than 5 million people over more than 6 thousand square miles.)

Workers are often unpaid or underpaid small amounts of money. PEACE argues that there is no recourse for these workers, as it falls outside of law enforcement jurisdiction, and small claims suit costs of $300 don't make sense for workers trying to recoup $50 or $100. Furthermore, says PEACE, a Wage Theft Ordinance could help workers who are too afraid of the court system to come forward.

The case against an Ordinance:

The Florida Retail Federation and many in the business community, on the other hand, see an ordinance as an extra, expensive, unnecessary layer of oversight. They condemn wage theft, but they feel that existing federal and state laws should provide recourse for cheated workers. They point to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and Florida's minimum wage law as legislation that protects workers. Instead of new laws, they feel local government should focus on enforcing existing laws.


Whether you agree with PEACE's solution or the business community's solution, workers must be protected. Call your county commissioners to let them know that this is an important issue. Whether through an organization or on your own, discuss, debate, volunteer, advocate, and spread awareness!


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Organizations Working on this Issue
People Engaged in Active Community Efforts (PEACE)

P.E.A.C.E. is a congregation-based community organization charged with the mission of effectively fighting injustices in the ...

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