The Miami Herald
Miami officials are investigating a complaint from employees of Kent Security Services alleging that the company is not paying the minimum living wage required by city law for all work performed for the city government.
Miami has a living-wage ordinance, which sets the lowest wage contractors can pay employees for work performed for the city. The exact amount depends on whether the employer provides health insurance, and is adjusted each year for inflation. Companies who want to work for the city must agree to pay the wage as part of their contract.
North Miami Beach-based Kent says it is complying with its contract, but a dozen workers, aided by a branch of the Service Employees International Union, say that isn’t so. The city says it will review Kent’s payroll records to determine who is right. So far this year, the city has paid Kent $358,858.24 for its services.
“Kent has not been able to follow the law,” said Eric Brakken, director of the Florida chapter of 32BJ, an SEIU branch that represents security guards. “The security guards are not being paid what the city ordinance says.”
The guards are not unionized, although SEIU said it is interested in organizing them.
A Kent spokesman said the company is playing by the rules.
“The contract specifies the wage rates to be paid to employees working on that contract and Kent has consistently paid the rate specified, or a greater rate, and has provided wage increases as specified by the City each year,” said the spokesman, Ray Casas, in an e-mail. “Kent Security Services is proud of the work we perform for the city of Miami and our public and private sector clients. We are equally proud of our personnel, their dedication to their work and the salary and benefits they receive.”
According to the complaints against Kent submitted to the city procurement office by the union and signed by 12 security guards, Kent has been paying employees $11.14 per hour plus health insurance for work performed for the city for the past two years. Since April, the city has required all contractors to pay such employees at least $11.82. Before that, the minimum was $11.66, according to the complaint.
According to the same complaint submitted in April, Kent is currently paying $12.40 per hour to employees without health insurance. Since April, the minimum for such employees was $13.07. Before that, it was $12.91.
Kenneth Robertson, the city’s procurement director, said his department is checking Kent’s payroll records from April 2009 to July 2011.
“This complaint is under investigation, the results of which are incomplete at this time,” Robertson said in an e-mail.
If the city finds that Kent has been paying its employees less than the minimum living wage, then city officials can require Kent to pay wage restitution to each of the employees who were underpaid.
The city can also penalize Kent in one of the following ways: Impose a fine of $500 per week, per employee not paid the proper salary; terminate Kent’s contract; suspend or terminate payment under the contract; or declare Kent ineligible for service contracts for three years or until Kent pays all penalties and restitutions.
While the city’s procurement office is investigating, Kent security guards like Edgar Dixon, 61, continue to struggle financially, and they say they have Kent to blame.
“We really need the city to step up and put pressure on Kent,” said Dixon, of Coconut Grove. “Kent seems like they don’t care. They don’t realize that without us, they wouldn’t be making any money.”
Dixon has been a full-time employee at Kent for nearly four years. He said he gets $11.14 an hour, a wage that did not increase when he was promoted to be a captain three years ago. He currently works as a security guards at the city’s Dinner Key Auditorium and Marina, one of the many city-owned sites for which Kent provides security.
The bi-monthly checks Dixon gets seem to vanish after he takes care of his bare-essential expenses such as rent, car and insurance, and co-payments for his medicines.
“After I pay my bills, I don’t have much left until the next pay period,” Dixon said during a recent interview. “I only have about $40 to hold me until the next two weeks. And that’s not enough to live off of.”
The union and some of the security guards have met with Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami commissioners to state their case.
“ They will have my support to make sure that they get the payments that they deserve, “ said Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort.
However, Gort, as well as the security guards, is awaiting the results of the investigation to see whether Kent did violate the minimum living wage ordinance.
“I am just hoping that Kent would stop playing games and just go ahead and do what they are supposed to do,” Dixon said. “I always loved security work. I could not see myself doing anything else.”