Palm Beach County commissioners have sided with business interests and rejected a local wage theft law that would have been similar to those in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. By a 5-2 margin, the commission voted to negate three years of activism by the group People Engaged in Active Community Efforts (PEACE), a coalition of 28 local congregations whose aim is to help those at the lowest end of the income spectrum.
Instead, the commissioners went with what detractors feel is a watered down alternative supported by the business community that relies on the Legal Aid Society to pursue wage theft cases through the court system. PEACE leaders note that the court system does not work fast enough.
PEACE member Rev. John D’Mello of St. Ann Catholic Church in West Palm Beach told the County Commission: “The process is too long. Most [workers] are living paycheck to paycheck.”
Business organizations behind the anti-anti-wage theft push included The Business Forum, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), the Community and Economic Development Council, and the Florida Atlantic Builders Association. They argued that their alternative was more cost-effective and relieved business of “burdensome” regulations.
Leaders from Florida’s immigrant community showed their support.
"This is an insult to the democratic process,” Isabel Vinent, of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, told the County Commission. “What does it take to be heard in Palm Beach County? Or is it the influential people that you need to hear?”
The proposed law was modeled after similar legislation in Miami-Dade County.
PEACE was pushing for the county to approve a law, patterned after Miami-Dade, that would allow workers to file complaints with the county about nonpayment or underpayment.
County representatives then would contact the employer and try to resolve the dispute. If a settlement couldn’t be reached through an administrative process, a hearing would be held by an appointed official who decides if the employer owes the money.
Approximately 120 ordinance supporters were present for the vote. Many were visibly upset upon its casting, according to the Broward Palm Beach New Times:
“They turned against their own constituents,” one organizer told the wage theft law supporters as they gathered outside the county building to discuss the day’s result. “There should be some righteous anger.”
Miami-Dade’s wage theft law has already withstood a legal challenge. It has been estimated that contractors in Florida deprive workers of between $60-$90 million each year.