Religious group: Palm Beach County's wage theft fight falls short
Thursday, November 10, 2011
- Organization: Sun Sentinel
They help build South Florida's homes, clean the hotels, work the farmland and handle other labor-intensive jobs vital to the local economy. Yet these low-income workers too often get shortchanged for wages they are owed and can't count on the slow-moving legal system to help them collect their rightful pay, according to local religious leaders. Wage theft, where employers fail to pay what they owe, cheats the residents who can least afford it and Palm Beach County needs to do more to stop it, according to People Engaged in Active Community Efforts, or PEACE. This coalition of local congregations is stepping up its efforts to get Palm Beach County to approve a wage-theft law that could help cheated workers get their pay. They want the County Commission to take up the matter in December.
The religious group says the county's current practice of relying on the Legal Aid Society to combat wage theft hasn't worked. The volunteer group has recovered just over $8,000 for 13 workers in seven months. Local workers can't afford to wait any longer for help, according to the coalition. "It's the just thing to do," said group representative Peter Mazzella, a deacon at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach. "People are continuing to be victimized." But like a day laborer trying to collect overtime from a boss who won't pay, the group's push for a wage-theft law faces an uphill political battle. Business leaders oppose the measure, calling it over regulation. They have already persuaded the County Commission to delay it for more than a year. Business lobbyists are even pushing for a state law that would forbid Palm Beach County and other local governments from imposing wage-theft laws. Samantha Padgett, of the Florida Retail Federation, says that improving public access to the existing legal system through the Legal Aide Society is better than adding "unnecessary and costly" wage-theft regulations. (click on link to read full story)