SFIWJ is a leading worker advocacy organization. Our mission is to involve the faith community in issues that will improve the wages, benefits, and employment conditions of workers, especially low-wage workers in South Florida.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
January marks Human Trafficking Awareness month. Within the wide umbrella of human trafficking is the issue of labor trafficking, which happens on a daily basis all over the world, including in the United States. It is estimated that there are currently 21 million victims of trafficking and forced labor in the world today (International Labor Organization); 5.5 million of these are children.
The U.S. is both a source and transit point for trafficking, and is considered to be one of the major destinations for trafficking victims. Miami, in particular, is one of the four major points for human trafficking within the United States.
The implication of this upsetting statistic is that the laborer you drive past working in a field or even the child that you see hanging laundry in a yard could have been labor trafficked here. Labor trafficking does not discriminate based on age, race, gender, or geographic location; with profits as high as $1.5 billion dollars each year, anyone is susceptible to fall victim to or contribute to trafficking.
Labor trafficking can occur in many types of workplaces, including restaurants, bars, tourist venues, janitorial services, and agricultural work, all industries that are prevalent in South Florida and throughout our state. It is distressing to know that forced labor is happening around the world, and even more so when you realize that it may be happening in your own neighborhood.
UNICEF helps governments recognize the signs of labor trafficking through the training of social workers, health workers, police officers, and other border officials to spot signs of trafficking. UNICEF, along with community partners, including South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, is working to address labor trafficking by hosting information sessions, panel discussions, film screenings (i.e. “Not My Life”), and fair trade fairs, but we need your help and your awareness as we continue this work.
Although the problems within our communities may at times seem overwhelming, we have no doubt that together we can create a better system for everyone.
Written by Laylah Copertino, UNICEF Community Engagement Fellow, Miami, Florida
UNICEF is a community partner of SFIWJ. For more information about UNICEF, visit http://www.unicefusa.org/.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
South Florida Justice and Equality in the Workplace Coalition Comes Together to Protect Vulnerable Workers & Call Attention to Wage Theft
[MIAMI, Fla.]- A National Day of Action Against Wage Theft has been called for November 18, 2016 with actions to be held across the country calling attention to wage theft, the illegal underpayment or non-payment of workers' wages.
Billions of dollars are stolen from workers across the country when employers pay less than minimum wage; refuse overtime pay; force workers to work off the clock; hold back final paychecks; misclassify employees as independent contractors; steal tips; or fail to pay workers at all.
Miami-Dade County, however, passed the first countywide Wage Theft Ordinance in the country in 2010 and has since awarded over 2.4 million dollars in unpaid wages and penalties to victims of wage theft.
According to Holly Beth Billington, a Consumer Advocate from the Office of Consumer Protection, which administers the County’s program, conciliations are one of the strengths of the local program as workers are able to receive their unpaid wages immediately.
“The number of successful conciliations is now far greater than the number of complaints referred to administrative hearings. As a result of the mediation expertise of the Office’s staff, more wage theft complainants are receiving funds in-hand following successful conciliations – as opposed to having to take on the task of collecting on an unsatisfied final order awarded at hearing.”
Despite the efforts of the County’s Wage Theft Program and the local office of the United States Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division, wage theft is still rampant across industries in Miami-Dade County.
Ezekiel, a construction worker, had worked for his employer for almost a year before he began to underpay him. After three weeks of being paid only $300-400 when he was owed $800, Ezekiel quit his job in frustration.
According to Sergio Gonzalez, a member of Iron Workers Local 272, workers within the construction industry join unions to protect themselves from some of the worst practices.
“I’ve worked in construction for thirty years. Conditions are getting worse unless you have a union to protect you. Workers are forced to work Saturdays and Sundays and if they don’t do it, the company lets them go. You don’t get paid overtime, just regular pay. There isn’t even water to drink and no one is following OSHA. That’s why there are so many accidents.”
Misclassification occurs when an employer misclassifies an employee as an independent contractor when he or she is actually an employee. Even though the state of Florida entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Internal Revenue Service to address this issue almost two years ago, misclassification is still a rampant form of wage theft in South Florida.
“Workers get to the end of the year and find out that they owe the government thousands of dollars because their employer never paid taxes,” says Elvis Montesano, another construction worker.
Often, according to Eduardo Leon, an organizer with Local 272, workers must use their child tax credit to offset the taxes owed to the IRS.
“This type of thing affects the economy directly, and leaves the worker with no hope. Sometimes his family even has to go on food stamps even though he’s working.”
Wage theft continues to be a problem in South Florida, affecting not just workers and their families, but also the wider community.
The South Florida Justice and Equality in the Workplace Program is a collaborative effort among U.S. government agencies, consulates of foreign governments, and U.S. community organizations to work together to assist vulnerable workers in our communities through educating employers and employees in the South Florida area about their rights and responsibilities in the workplace.
Member agencies, consulates, and organizations of the South Florida Justice and Equality in the Workplace Program include the U.S. Department of Labor through the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC); the Consulate General of Mexico in Miami, Florida; Consulate General of Guatemala in Miami, Florida; Consulate General of Uruguay in Miami, Florida; Consulate General of El Salvador in Miami, Florida; Consulate General of Haiti in Miami, Florida; the South Florida AFL-CIO; WeCount!; the American Friends Service Committee; UNITE HERE Local 355; the South Florida Chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement; South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice; LiUNA Local 1652; the Farmworkers Association of Florida; and Catholic Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami.
Friday, June 20, 2014
The Federal minimum wage, had it kept current with inflation, would be $10.74. Instead, the current Federal minimum wage is $7.25. This means that, in real dollar terms, the Federal minimum wage is worth just two-thirds of what it was worth in the 1970’s. When this is coupled with the fact that a larger percentage of the American work force earns minimum wage today than in the 1970’s, we see clearly that this country is moving backwards in the living standards of our working people. Because wage laws do not include a stipulation that the minimum wage be indexed to inflation, every time we have a debate on this issue we are merely fighting to regain some of the ground lost rather than fighting to move ahead. Ethical employers cannot compete against the unscrupulous greedy employers who are more than willing to undercut their competitors on price by keeping wages low. This is one of many reasons why it is imperative to increase the Federal minimum wage, in order to provide a morally tenable level playing field. In a country as rich as ours, no one working full time should be earning poverty wages. As people of faith we should realize that we are judged by how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.
Father Frank J. Corbishley is the Chaplain of St. Bede Chapel at the University of Miami.