What do a Christian preschool, a pizzeria, a sod company, and the Tourist Office of Spain have in common?
They've all been caught shortchanging their staff, according to documents obtained by the New Times. But thanks to the Miami-Dade's new Wage Theft Program, those and 12 other companies have voluntarily paid out over $25,000 to current and former employees in the past five months.
Follow the jump to see a full list, including the pay-outs:
In February, The Miami-Dade County Commission voted to create the Wage Theft Program, placing it within the Small Business Development (SBD) department. It wasn't until September, however, that the program was implemented.
"It's our goal to eliminate unscrupulous employment practices here in Miami-Dade," says SBD division director Sheri McGriff. "Employees come to us when they feel wronged. We assist them in at least trying to retrieve the money they feel belongs to them."
SBD director Penelope Townsley is careful to point out, however, that the amounts on the list are "amicably conciliated payments," not fines. When an employee files a complaint with the Wage Theft Program, SBD investigates its validity before sending a letter to the employer. In the 25 cases listed above, the employers agreed to pay the employees -- some of them ex-employees -- what they said they were owed.
If an agreement can't be reached, or the employer doesn't answer SBD's letters, a formal legal process begins.
The program is designed to help lower- and middle-class workers who don't have the time, money, or -- in the case of undocumented immigrants -- legal standing to file a lawsuit. "Where do employees get the resources to do that?" McGriff says. "If you have a complaint for $60, what lawyer is going to take your case? These are the type of people that don't have the resources to do that."
Not everyone is a fan of the new program, first and foremost many of the businesses on the list. When New Times called a handful of them, the reactions varied from mildly pissed-off to out-right indignant -- at least the ones that answered our phone calls.
Julio Lopez, director of the Tourist Office of Spain on Brickell, says his office was late receiving funds from the Spanish Government and had to delay payments to a recently-fired employee, but everything is square now -- no thanks to the county.
"We never really heard from this commission or whatever it is," he says. "The employee contacted us. I just hoped he would have told us before filing a complaint."
"There was no theft at all," Lopez says. "I consider the term wage theft ridiculous in this case."
David Kahn, an attorney for the all-too-pleasantly-named Le Petit Papillon Montessori School in Miami Beach, says the school simply enforced its contract when a teacher decided to leave early.
"Just because an employee files a complaint with some agency doesn't make that complaint factually accurate," he says.
But like all the businesses on the list, Le Petit Papillon agreed to pay.
Not so amicably, it seems.
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