When the Labor Party held its July general meeting, member Jeremiah Tattersall and a guest from the IWW told us about a conference they planned to attend that dealt with the issue of wage theft. The conference was sponsored by FLIC, the Florida Immigration Coalition, and it sought to educate Floridians about the widespread problem affecting our state. The Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy (known as RISEP) at Florida International University released two studies on wage theft in Florida that uses data from the U.S. Department of Labor and several community organizations. The study indicates that an average of 3,036 wage violations per year are reported to the Wage and Hour Division in Florida.
Of course, most cases of wage theft go unreported, so the actual amount of cases is likely to be much higher.
But, Jeremiah and other participants didn’t only attend the FLIC conference to learn about the huge problems facing the working people of Florida, they also got a glimpse into a local solution taking place in South Florida. Despite ample evidence of widespread wage theft among low-income workers, the means of claiming and recovering stolen wages at the federal level are ineffective, frustrating, and painfully slow. Existing federal labor laws are not backed up with a properly staffed or a properly funded Departement of Labor, and because Florida lost its State Department of Labor at the hands of Jeb Bush, Floridians are in desperate need of local measures to recover their stolen wages. In early 2010, a Coalition of community activists in Miami-Dade County helped implement such a measure by passing a county-wide Wage-Theft Ordinance. Since its implementation, Miami-Dade has recovered $28 millions in stolen wages from employers. In fact, the ordinance is working so well, that it has already been threatened in the courts by employers and at the state level by bills attempting to strip counties from the power to pass such ordinances. Fortunately, GOP-sponsored bills have failed to pass due to the widespread activism of the Miami community, the Florida AFL-CIO, and organizations like Fight Back Florida.
The Labor Party is interested in becoming involved in a county-wide campaign to bring a similar ordinance to Alachua County. Although we cannot point to a specific study, it was only a matter of asking our members about their experiences with wage theft at our last general meeting to see just how prevalent the problem is in our workplaces. We also brought wage theft surveys to the Labor Daze Festival and acquired a dozen different stories from community members whose labor was stolen by their employer.
We are partnering with other community groups such as Fight Back Florida, the IWW, and the Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice to begin organizing and lobbying our county commissioners about this issue. At our first organizing meeting at the beginning of September, we were very fortunate to have the help of Alex Cardelle, a UF Political Science student who interened with the Wage-Theft division of the Miami-Dade County government over the summer. He has already brought a wealth of knowledge to the group we’ve tentatively called “The Alachua County Wage Theft Task Force” and has offered his experience to help our campaign get off the ground. If you are interested in helping the Labor Party work towards implementing a Wage Theft Ordinance in Alachua County, you are welcome to attend our next Task Force meeting. It will take place on Thursday, 9/27 at 6:30PM at the Labor Party Office (14 E. University Ave. Suite #204.) Please call or e-mail the Labor Party coordinators for more information or if you’re interested in joining us. Together we can stop the stealing of our hard earned wages in Alachua County.
For more information, please visit the group’s NEW website:
Keep in mind, the site is still under construction, so new information will be added in the coming weeks.