Push for reforms on wage theft intensifies

MEDIA ADVISORY
FOR THURSDAY, JUNE 23, 2016
NOON – 1:00 P.M. EST

Contact: Darlene Lombos, Community Labor United
Darlene@MassCLU.org, 617-723-2639

Push for reforms on wage theft intensifies

Workers and advocates escalate efforts to combat $700,000,000 in stolen wages as Massachusetts legislature session nears close

“Wage Theft Counter” will debut Thursday on Route 93 and online

 BOSTON, MA – Workers and advocates are ramping up their calls for the Massachusetts legislature to take action on what they see as a wage theft “epidemic” in Massachusetts.

Groups backing Massachusetts Senate bill 2207, An Act to Prevent Wage Theft and Promote Employer Accountability, will announce several escalations in their campaign this Thursday, June 23, at Noon as workers from various industries gather at the Massachusetts State House steps to share their stories and to promote statewide reforms. Approximately $700 million(1) in wages are stolen from workers in Massachusetts each year by employers who break the law by eschewing overtime, minimum wage, and other existing regulations.

WHO:            Workers who have been impacted by wage theft and their community supporters
WHAT:         Wage theft speak out, launch of StopMassWageTheft.org public campaign, launch of the Massachusetts Wage Theft Counter            

WHEN:         Thursday, June 23, 2016, Noon – 1:00 P.M.
WHERE:       Massachusetts State House Steps, 24 Beacon Street, Boston, MA, 02133

Meanwhile, according to multiple studies based on US Census Bureau data, Massachusetts ranks as having one of the highest overall level of income inequality amongst all U.S. states. Boston has repeatedly been ranked as the most inequitable city in the nation.

“These basic, common sense reforms will help ensure workers are paid what they are promised and what they are owed under the laws that already exist,” said Darlene Lombos, Executive Director of Community Labor United. “These reforms will also support businesses who play by the rules – businesses who deserve a level playing field and shouldn’t be disadvantaged when competitors break the law and engage in wage theft.”

On Thursday, Community Labor United will unveil the “Massachusetts Wage Theft Counter.” Looming over highways across the state in the form of digital billboards, the counter will show a running tally of the estimated amount of wages stolen from workers in Massachusetts thus far in 2016. The counter will also continually update on a newly launched website, StopMassWageTheft.org, which will be backed by a social media and radio advertising campaigns, also launching on Thursday.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND:

Sen. Sal DiDomenico is the lead sponsor of the legislation, which is currently under consideration by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. Reps. Aaron Michelwitz and Kate Hogan are lead sponsors of the corresponding House legislation. Advocates say they hope to see the bill passed into law before the current legislative session concludes at the end of July. The campaign has gained momentum recently, passing similar measures on a municipal level in Boston, Cambridge, and Chelsea.

If passed, the Act would put new restrictions on businesses who have been subject to criminal or civil actions resulting from a failure to comply with the Massachusetts Fair Labor Standards Act. In Massachusetts and across the country, employers are subcontracting and outsourcing their work and distancing themselves from their responsibilities to their employees. While sometimes these practices reflect more efficient ways of producing goods and services, they are too often the result of explicit employer strategies to evade labor laws and erode worker protections.

Advocates say that the penalties and regulations on the books in most cities and in the state are too weak to prevent employers from misclassifying and stealing from employees, particularly lower-wage employees. Community Labor United recently released a hard-hitting report describing the wage theft crisis in Massachusetts, entitled “Gaming the System – How Employers Short-Change Workers and Get Away With It.”

According to data cited in the report, misclassification costs the state as much as $259 million annually in payroll taxes and $87 million annually in unemployment insurance taxes.

Wage theft is estimated to cost workers in the United States billions each year, only a fraction of which is currently recovered through state and private litigation.

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Community Labor United (CLU) is the convener of the Good Jobs, Strong Communities Campaign. CLU and its partners work to protect and promote the interests of working class families in Massachusetts. Through coalition building, research and policy development, public education and grassroots mobilization, CLU moves policies that promote quality jobs and sustainable neighborhoods.

 

1.) Bernhardt et al. (2009) performed a statistical survey of 4,387 low-wage workers across three cities and found 68% of lowwage workers experienced wage theft averaging $51/week or $2,634/year assuming a full-time schedule. We identified a universe of 513,611 low-wage Massachusetts workers building on figures reported by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (2013). We applied the 68% prevalence rate to this universe to get 349,256 workers experiencing wage theft, and then applied a more conservative $2,000/year stolen per worker to get $698,512,000 wages stolen annually.

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