New Wage Theft Ordinance gets boost from Somerville Jobs Trust
“Wage theft” occurs when an employer doesn’t properly pay an employee. It can result from misclassifying employees as contractors, from being forced to work “off the clock,” or intentionally shorting a paycheck. It’s a huge problem for workers everywhere. Nationwide, as much as $19 billion are stolen from workers every year in unpaid overtime and $40 to $60 billion in total wages are lost annually due to all forms of wage theft. Wage theft is most often perpetrated on those who work in restaurants, construction, landscaping, cleaning, and painting jobs.
In an attempt to deal with the problem in 2013, the city passed an ordinance to punish violators. Unfortunately, the ordinance that passed was found to be unenforceable.
Our Revolution Somerville and several construction trade unions worked together to draft a new, stronger ordinance. The ORS Labor Working Group held a community briefing and turned out a large crowd of supporters who provided testimony at several city council hearings. The new Wage Theft ordinance was finally passed by the City Council in late 2019 and went into effect on July 1, 2020.
With the new ordinance, contractors who steal worker’s wages could have their permits refused or pulled; restaurants and other employers will face the same potential loss of licenses if they have stolen workers’ wages.
The law also created a new “Wage Theft Advisory Board” composed of labor, community, and elected representatives to oversee the law’s implementation. However, for Somerville workers to take full advantage of the law, they will need to be armed with their rights, gain leadership skills, and receive organizing and legal support.
Recognizing this need for workers’ education, Somerville Stands Together and ORS supporters turned out for the first public hearing of the city’s new Job Creation and Retention Trust (JCRT) on October 2019 to support funding wage theft education.
In response, the JCRT board developed a request for proposals and after a review process, awarded a grant of $119,000 to a collaboration by three organizations: The Welcome Project, MassCOSH and the Brazilian Worker Center. All three groups have a well-established track record of educating and supporting workers. The groups are undertaking their collaboration as the “Somerville Workers’ Center.” The group’s first staff person, Francisca Sepúlveda, has already begun educational workshops for workers in Somerville.
On October 29, Somerville union members and community supporters rallied with elected officials to protest rampant wage theft and tax fraud taking place at Assembly Row. The rally highlighted Somerville’s new Wage Theft Ordinance and the new Somerville Workers Center that will be assisting workers who are victims of wage theft. The rally was organized by Painters District Council 35 and supported by the Boston Building Trades, Greater Boston Labor Council and Somerville Stands Together. A video clip from the rally is posted here.