Eber Varela says he works hard but recently his employer didn't pay him.
“I need to pay rent. I need to buy food,” said Varela.
When a Bal Harbour restaurant formerly known as Table 10-09 refused to pay him for more than two weeks of work last year, it hurt. The line chef had to turn to family for money.
“They helped me to survive but it’s not easy,” said Varela.
After weeks of phone calls and visits to the restaurant his former boss gave him a check but it didn’t clear.
“The last time he said, ‘I don’t care. I don’t want to pay,’“ said Varela.
Six construction workers told the NBC 6 Investigators the same thing happened to them. They say contractor Carlos Gonzalez didn't pay them for work done at different job sites.
“What bothers me the most is that they played us,” said Orlando Rodriguez.
Carlos Gonzalez declined an on-camera interview but in a statement said he is an "honest person" a "businessman with principles."
Soon after getting our call, one of the workers told NBC 6 he received $8,000 from Gonzalez. The four others say they haven’t been paid.
Varela and the construction workers turned to Miami-Dade County’s Consumer Protection Department.
They’re among more than 1,800 workers who have filed wage theft complaints in Miami-Dade since 2010. Often an agreement is reached in mediation, but when it's not, employees take their chances in front of a hearing officer.
Chef Alexander Hernandez ended up face to face with his former employer. Hernandez used time clock receipts to convince the county that the owner of the now closed “The District” restaurant owed him more than $2,000 for three weeks of work.
“That was a lot because I have to pay my rent I have a baby,” said Hernandez.
The restaurant owner wouldn’t talk to us on camera—telling us she had no comment.
The hearing officer ruled in favor of both Alexander Hernandez and Eber Varela.
Their former employers have been ordered to pay them three times the amount they were owed.
Varela’s former restaurant told the NBC 6 Investigators they owe him the money and plan to pay him.
Labor attorney Anthony Falzon says he sees these cases all the time.
“In South Florida, regrettably, I would say we are ground zero for employers violating the law in terms of overtime pay, in terms of minimum wage violations and just out right refusal to pay the agreed amount,” said Falzon.
Nury Vergara’s Fort Lauderdale office of the US Department of Labor investigates wage theft complaints.
“It’s happening more frequently,” Vergara said.
Nationwide, the agency has recovered more than a billion dollars in back pay for employees since 2011.
“We find the most common violation is non-payment of overtime,” said Vergara.
Filing a wage theft complaint with either the county or the US Department of Labor is free and you don’t need an attorney. You can be awarded three times what you’re owed. Below are helpful links and information for filing a wage theft complaint.
Miami-Dade Consumer Protection Office
601 NW 1st Court, 18th floor
Miami, FL 33136
Wage theft complaint form for Miami-Dade:
Eligibility requirements to file a wage theft complaint in Miami-Dade:
- the work must have been completed in Miami-Dade within the last 12 months
- the claimed amount must be more than $60
- you must be an employee and not a contractor
Broward County’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
Governmental Center, Room 426/427
115 S. Andrews Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Telephone: (954) 357-6500
US Department of Labor
10300 Southwest 72nd St., Suite 255
Miami, FL 33173
Telephone: (305) 598-6607
Federal Building, Room 408
299 East Broward Blvd.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301
Telephone: (954) 356-6896
West Palm Beach
1818 S. Australian Ave. #251
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Telephone: (561) 640-0474