In light of a dramatic uptick in labor rights violations in Massachusetts this year, Senator Sal DiDomenico has renewed his urgent call to pass legislation aimed at preventing the illegal practice of wage theft. Senator DiDomenico is the lead sponsor of S.1066, An Act to prevent wage theft, promote employer accountability, and enhance public enforcement, which would give the state greater power to go after corrupt employers and provide additional tools for the Attorney General’s Office to hold violators fully accountable.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office recently identified nearly 13,000 employees affected by labor rights violations in fiscal 2020, which represents a 16% increase from the previous year. These employees are not necessarily the total number of workers hit by wage theft, workplace safety, and other labor violations. They are only the ones known to the state.
“Attorney General Maura Healey and the Fair Labor Division are doing incredible work to rigorously enforce our labor laws and ensure that each and every worker in the Commonwealth is treated fairly,” said Senator DiDomenico. “However, it is clear that as wage theft continues to grow even more prevalent, our Attorney General and her team need additional support and tools to continue their critical work. As we continue to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and rebuild our economy, wage theft legislation must be part of our efforts to protect workers during these difficult times.”
Wage theft- the illegal practice of not paying employees for all of their work through means such as violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, or forcing workers to work off the clock- has become a pervasive problem throughout the Massachusetts economy. The number of wage theft violations has especially grown as more companies move towards using independent contractors rather than full-time employees, overwhelming the capacity of our existing labor laws and enforcement mechanisms.
According to Community Labor United, approximately $700 million is stolen by bad employers from 350,000 workers in Massachusetts each year. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to wage theft due to a reluctance to speak out against employers. As a result, these workers can sometimes go weeks without pay, and when they do get paid, it can be less than originally promised.
Wage theft also hurts legitimate businesses by putting law-abiding companies at a competitive disadvantage when they lose contracts to companies that charge less for their work by cheating their workers out of their pay. These bad actors also avoid paying taxes and into critical safety nets for workers, putting an unfair burden on Massachusetts taxpayers and the Commonwealth when employees have a legitimate right to utilize these programs.
To increase accountability in labor contracting and subcontracting, the bill holds lead contractors accountable for the wage theft violations of their subcontractors if there is a significant connection to their business activities or operations and enhances the enforcement power of the Attorney General’s Office by allowing it to bring wage theft cases directly to civil court. The Attorney General would also gain the ability to issue a stop work order in response to a wage theft violation.
To protect employees affected by a stop work order, the bill requires that employees be paid for the period that the stop work order is in effect or the first 10 days the employee was scheduled to work had the stop order not been issued.
The Massachusetts Senate has passed Senator DiDomenico’s wage theft bill during the previous two legislative sessions with nearly unanimous and bipartisan support. Today, the bill is currently pending before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce development where is awaits a favorable report.