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Monday, Feb 22, 2010, 7:14 am

Florida’s Miami-Dade County Passes Landmark Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

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Miami-Dade County became the first U.S. county to outlaw wage theft last week. The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to give workers a voice when they are unpaid or underpaid.

Under the new law, if an employer is holding back tips, paying less than minimum wage, bouncing paychecks, the county can step in and help workers get back pay.

The law is a victory for the South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice Movement (SFIWJM) and the South Florida Wage Theft Task Force. The two groups worked together for over a year to usher the bill into law. The activists found a key ally in Miami-Dade Commissioner Natacha Seijas, who introduced the legislation.

"This is momentous," said Jeanette Smith, executive director of SFIWJ. "The passing of this legislation will make a difference for every worker in Miami-Dade County and, hopefully, will encourage groups all over the country to establish similar mechanisms for workers in their communities."

Organizers hope that the victory in Miami-Dade will inspire other communities to crack down on wage theft. Los Angeles and New Orleans are reportedly weighing similar measures. San Francisco already has anti-wage-theft legislation on the books.

From a county's point of view, combatting wage theft is a win-win proposition. It costs little for the county to throw some of its legal heft behind workers seeking back pay. When workers get paid what they're owed, they are less likely to depend on public services. And when the county helps workers get paid, the money flows back into the community, stimulating the local economy.

At a time when so many local governments are struggling financially, anti-wage theft ordinances aren't just the right thing to do, they're also smart policy.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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