05/14/2012 05:59 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2012

Speak Out Against Wage Theft

Holy scripture teaches us that all human beings are deserving of dignity and respect. The relationship between employee and employer should be a reflection of the inherent dignity of the individual. Wage theft, or the deliberate nonpayment of wages earned, is a violation of this dignity as well as a violation of one of the most basic precepts of our society -- an employee gives his or her labor to an employer trusting that he or she will be paid for that labor. Not only is the employer legally obligated to pay the employee for his or her time, but the employer is also morally obligated to do so.

One of the most striking elements of the many cases of wage theft that plague South Florida is how often the workers affected are those who are surrounded by luxury in their workplaces. They are the construction workers who build luxury condominiums and marble-floored financial centers, the domestic workers and nannies who work in Key Biscayne penthouses, and the janitors who clean the offices of financial institutions such as JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and Merrill Lynch. Too often these workers are left unpaid without access to any recourse.

Fortunately, workers in Miami-Dade County do have access to assistance from the county's fledgling Wage Theft Program, which was implemented in 2010. Though it is under-resourced for the amount of wage theft claims that flood into its office, the program has already collected over $400,000 for victims of wage theft. The county should be lauded for stepping up to prevent the theft of wages of working people.

Ethical business owners should also step up and speak out against wage theft, which undermines our local economy, creating a trickle effect that harms not only the victims of wage theft, but also others in the community when workers are unable to spend money and must resort to public assistance in order to support their children.

In the case of Marcos Guifarro and Henry Urbina, they are fortunate to also have their union, SEIU 32BJ, and their fellow workers standing with them as they demand the money that is allegedly owed to them by Jantrex, a cleaning company for which they have worked for three years. Marcos and Henry work in the Southeast Financial Center, a building owned by JP Morgan Chase that houses multibillion dollar corporations such as Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs.

Sadly, many of the janitors at this location, although not all victims of wage theft, are making poverty wages without access to health insurance, paid sick days, or other benefits. This lack of basic benefits is offensive and the Episcopal Church supports the right of workers to organize unions and to bargain collectively for better wages, hours, and working conditions.

There are scriptures (Deuteronomy 24:14-15) that speak directly to the essential imbalance of wealth and power between employer and employee, urging employers to both care for their employees and to make sure that their employees receive their wages in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, not all employers recognize their responsibility to their employees, which is why we need local government to step up as in the case of the Miami-Dade Wage Theft Ordinance. The County recognized that without a Florida Department of Labor many workers were vulnerable to abuse and exercised its authority in a reasonable manner, establishing a program to which victimized workers could turn for assistance.

Thus far the Wage Theft Program has assisted teachers, construction workers, telemarketers, domestic workers, and many others. In order to increase the efficacy of this laudatory program, though, it is important that more funds be allocated to the program. The county has taken a strong step in declaring that wage theft is unacceptable in Miami-Dade County and should continue to speak out loudly against the practice of wage theft by ensuring that the Wage Theft Program continues to function as a deterrent to this immoral practice.