BOSTON- State Senator Jamie Eldridge joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate to pass legislation on June 21st that will help prevent the illegal practice of wage theft and promote employer accountability. The bill, S.2327, gives the state greater power to go after wage violators and provides additional tools for the Attorney General’s office to hold violators fully accountable.
“Stealing your employee’s hard-earned wages is repulsive, and the consequences are far-reaching. It hurts workers and their families who are trying to make ends meet, and it harms our communities by exacerbating income inequality in Massachusetts,” said Senator Eldridge. “I want to thank Senator DiDomenico and Senator Lewis for their work on this bill, and Senate President Chandler for her leadership in bringing this important economic justice legislation to the floor for a vote.”
Wage theft has become a pervasive problem throughout the Massachusetts economy, with an estimated $700 million stolen from 350,000 employees each year in the Commonwealth. This illegal practice can take many different forms, such as violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock, misclassifying employees, or simply not paying workers at all.
“At the Brazilian Worker Center every day workers arrive with wage claims,” said Natalícia Tracy, the Executive Director of the Brazilian Worker Center. “After working 70-90 hours a week, workers are not able to meet their basic obligations — paying their bills, paying rent, buying food for their families, and diapers for their babies — because they have been victims of wage theft. It’s unfair and unjust for hard-working people not to be paid for their labor. We must pass laws that protect all working people, all families, and all communities in the Commonwealth.”
To crack down on wage theft and increase accountability in labor contracting and subcontracting, the bill holds lead contractors liable for wages, as well as any penalties or fines, associated with wage theft violations. The bill also enhances the enforcement power of the Attorney General’s office by allowing it to bring wage theft cases to court and seek civil damages.
In cases where there has been a determination of a wage theft violation, the Attorney General would have the ability to issue a stop work order, temporarily halting work until the violation is corrected. Employers would then have the ability to correct the violation and resume operation, or request a hearing.
The bill also establishes a wage theft compensation fund, administered by the Attorney General, to expend funds to workers and lead contractors under certain circumstances, as well as to provide worker outreach and education to prevent wage theft.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.