BOSTON – This week Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, along with dozens of workers, labor leaders and community organizations, urged Legislators to pass crucial legislation (S.1158/H.1868 and S.1171/H.1943) which would address issues with wage theft and worker misclassification.
“When workers lose billions of dollars in stolen wages, it can mean the difference between facing foreclosure or keeping their homes, experiencing food insecurity or providing for their families, or accessing life-saving medical treatment,” wrote Governor Healey. “Workers are more likely to contribute to our economy when they are shielded from wage theft, and businesses are more inclined to invest and remain in our state when we level the playing field for those who adhere to the law.”
Healey noted that the bills from DiDomenico and Donahue also come amid rising costs for rent, groceries, child care, and health care.
“The impact of wage theft is felt most severely by the thousands of workers who have their wages stolen, but it also impacts honest employers who lose business opportunities to those who cheat,” said Massachusetts Building Trades Unions President Frank Callahan.
Wage theft costs the Commonwealth nearly $1 billion in lost revenue annually and occurs when workers do not receive their legally or contractually promised wages. Types of wage theft include non-payment of overtime, not giving workers their last paycheck after a worker leaves a job, or not paying a worker the money that they have rightfully earned.
“When the non-union company I was working for got caught cheating me and my co-workers out of our wages, we were told to hand over our back pay to the owner in cash. Even after getting caught, they still found a way to cheat us and keep us from providing for our families,” said Gustavo Pereira, IUPAT DC 35 Member, Painter. “Now, I am a member of IUPAT DC 35 with a union contract, and I know I’ll be paid exactly what I earned. But years later, my former employer is still cheating workers out of their hard-earned wages. We need to make employers think twice before stealing from their workers, and give workers the protections they need to fight for what they’ve earned.”
“In construction, the victims are workers suffering wage theft, insurance companies losing workers compensation premiums, taxpayers losing revenue and honest businesses losing jobs,” said Vincent Coyle, Business Manager of Ironworkers Local 7. “With this law, the Commonwealth can stop cheaters, at no taxpayer cost. And once they’re held accountable, they will pay fines and unpaid wages. This law is good public policy.”
The surge in wage theft has outpaced the Commonwealth’s labor laws and enforcement mechanisms and has intensified as employers increasingly opt to subcontract or delegate essential facets of their operations to offsite facilities.
“Wage theft costs the state millions in lost tax revenue, hurts working families and is bad for the Massachusetts economy,” said Tim Fandel, Business Manager for Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12 in Boston. “We have to hold businesses accountable for exploiting vulnerable workers and skirting tax laws. This legislation will put vital protections in place so all workers are paid the wages they deserve, and companies pay their fair share.”
S.1158 and H.1868, An Act to Prevent Wage Theft, would provide the Attorney General and working people new tools to fight against stolen wages.
“Businesses engaged in wage theft also routinely disregard other labor laws, such as minimum wage requirements and safety regulations,” wrote Chris Carey, Vice President/Legislative Director, IUOE Local 4, in his testimony. “And dishonest contractors who turn a blind eye to subcontractor misconduct not only harm workers but also undermine honest contractors who faithfully follow the rules.”
Across the Commonwealth, unscrupulous contractors continuously flout prevailing wage laws, paying workers as little as possible simply because the work is being done in a shop rather than in the field. S.1171 and H.1943 would close that loophole, ensuring taxpayer dollars on those projects make their way to worker paychecks, providing community-sustaining wages to working people, and a level playing field for honest contractors.
“Workers deserve to be paid a living wage — no matter where the work gets done,” said Bob Butler, President of SMART NERC. “It’s time to close this dangerous loophole that hurts both workers and the communities they serve. This bill would level the playing field by preventing contractors from underpaying offsite workers and removing their incentive to hire workers out of state.”
The Massachusetts building trade unions strongly urge prompt and favorable reporting of both S.1158/H.1868 and S.1171/H.1943 and wholeheartedly advocate for their swift passage. Protecting workers and preserving fair labor practices are essential for the prosperity of our communities and the Commonwealth.
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