County Continues Wage Recovery Program Funding

The Palm Beach County Commission extended its wage recovery program for another year Tuesday after a successful first year that saw the recovery of more than $200,000 in wages that employers had tried to withhold unfairly from workers.

Assistant County Administrator Brad Merriman said staff’s recommendation extends the Wage Recovery Program contract with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County another year.

“This was an initiative that was offered through the PEACE [People Engaged in Active Community Efforts] organization many years ago, and the initial discussions were the possibility of having an ordinance. The program that we ultimately resulted in with Legal Aid, I’m happy to report to you is working very well,” Merriman said, pointing out that the county received a letter from PEACE recommending continuation, even through the group had originally asked the county to enact an ordinance similar to the one in Miami-Dade County.

The commission had originally financed up to $100,000 for the program and agreed to spend another $104,000 for the next year.

Attorney Christine Hanley with labor law firm Ford Harrison, representing the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches, where she is on the board of trustees and serves as general counsel, said county staff had effectively administered the program, and that the Legal Aid Society had run the program well.

“The success of this project speaks for itself,” Hanley said. “The business community on whose behalf I appear today is thrilled to recommend continued support to the funding of the wage dispute project.”

Carol Bowen, vice president of government affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), also supported the program.

“It’s a wonderful example of how a long-term discussion of bringing all interested parties to the table can create something that does appear to be working for everybody,” Bowen said, pointing out that ABC opposed the ordinance originally. “It was never about opposing help. It was about trying to find a solution that did fit, and I cannot say enough positive things about the good work that county staff has done in reaching this effort, and the work that Legal Aid has done and continues to do. I can’t see any reason that we wouldn’t want to continue what was once a pilot program into something more permanent.”

Commissioner Shelley Vana gave kudos to staff. “It was not easy to come to this, but to get a letter from PEACE saying it’s working is amazingly wonderful, and also to Legal Aid, which has really done the brunt of the work in terms of representing the people,” she said.

Vice Mayor Paulette Burdick said the program is a great example of how people with divergent views and opinions can come together to find common ground and create a workable solution.

“It gives us hope in the belief for future items that come before us, many times with divergent opinions, that we can come together and end up with a good result for the people,” Burdick said.

Legal Aid Society Executive Director Bob Bertisch said the program puts the county on the cutting-edge of wage recovery.

“The program is doing well,” Bertisch said. “The business community’s support was unbelievable. We’re glad PEACE came to the table and appreciated what we’re doing, and saw how we’re all working together for the same folks.”