10/22/2012 04:31 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

When Workers Are Not Paid, We All Lose

Broward Commissioners have the opportunity to ensure a healthy and fair economic recovery in our county by approving the Wage Recovery Ordinance.

For many years I was an employee who depended on my paycheck to be able to provide for my family. I remember counting the days until I was paid so I could cover my rent, put food on the table and buy school supplies for my three children. I know how it feels when your employer doesn't pay you after days or weeks of hard work.

Thanks to good opportunities in life, I was able to open my own business. Now I determine my own salary and sometimes I don't have to wait for the much-needed paycheck. I am not an employee anymore, but I'll never forget I used to be one. For that reason I am always careful that the people who work with me, whether as employees or as subcontractors, get paid on time and fairly.

I also know that paying our workers will not only help families who depend on that income, but it protects us all as a community, and it protects our own businesses. As head of the Brazilian Community Center in Pompano Beach, I've seen the negative effects spread in our local economy when people don't have jobs or don't get paid.

Immigrants and low-income communities are many times the most vulnerable to dishonest businesses who "cheat to compete." They are constantly harassed and intimidated if they threaten to complain, and knowledge and access to the legal system is limited and costly. I have seen and heard the countless stories of immigrant men being shortchanged for an honest day's work in the sun paving our driveways and roads. All they demand is an honest day's pay. Many times workers may go a month without getting paid and still be owed backpay. This is not the promise of America, this is not what Broward County stands for.

At a moment when Floridians are finally getting back to work, we can't afford to not pay them. Also, now that some businesses are being able to hire new employees with great effort, we cannot allow dishonest businesses to gain advantage over us by cheating and not paying their employees. Businesses that use wage theft as their business model are able to underbid on jobs (construction, landscaping, etc.) and to price items lower (as overall costs are lower) -- to the detriment of honest businesses.

Broward Commissioners have a very important task in their hands. This Thursday, October 23rd, the Board of County Commissioners will vote on a much-needed Wage Recovery Ordinance that will help workers reclaim their wages, and will protect honest business owners like me who are playing by the rules and paying what is fair to our employees.

Broward is my home. It has seen my family, my community and my business grow. I commend our Commissioners to take a vote for a healthy and fair economy in Broward.

Urbano Santos is a local business owner and the Director of the Brazilian Community Center in Pompano Beach.