BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP)– Attorney General Maura Healey has issued her sixth annual Labor Day Report on the office’s efforts to combat wage theft and other forms of worker exploitation. The report shows that in fiscal year 2021, the office assessed more than $8.1 million in restitution and penalties against employers on behalf of working people in Massachusetts.
“On Labor Day, we celebrate and honor all the workers across Massachusetts who have continued to work hard and persevere during a year of great uncertainty,” said AG Healey. “My office remains committed to upholding workers’ rights and enforcing our state laws to ensure every employer is providing its employees with the workplace rights and benefits to which they are entitled.”
22News spoke with lawyer James. B. Winston of James B. Winston Law office in Northampton about how wage theft happens.
“Wage theft is basically when an employee is not paid all the money that they are due from their employer for example if an employer isn’t paying an employee for time and a half for over 40,” said Winston.
The Labor Day Report details the activities of the AG’s Fair Labor Division in fiscal year 2021, which runs from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. During this time, the Fair Labor Division ordered employers to pay $5 million in restitution and $3.1 million in penalties to employees; more than 10,622 employees were impacted as a result of the AG’s enforcement actions.
“I wouldn’t want to be in that situation at all,” said Conrad Broderick of Holyoke. “I could definitely see that happening to me in the future if things don’t change about it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis has remained a prominent issue for many working families across Massachusetts and continued to be a part of the AG’s focus through fiscal year 2021. The Fair Labor Division continued its work to ensure workers had access to wages and paid sick leave. An online multilingual FAQ page helped to provide up-to-date information regarding employee rights and employer responsibilities during the ongoing pandemic.
The Fair Labor Division prioritized wage theft in the construction industry in fiscal year 2021. In total, $1,985,000 in penalties and restitution were assessed against 115 employers in the construction industry. In one case, the AG’s office cited a Lowell asbestos company for more than $564,000, which included restitution for 32 employees, for failing to pay wages and overtime, failing to maintain an earned sick time policy, and payroll records violations. The Division undertook efforts to help make the construction industry more inclusive and racially diverse, including collaborating with external groups on a training initiative about the state’s laws that require a diverse workforce on public construction projects. More than 500 public purchasing and industry representatives have since been trained on statutory workforce participation goal obligations.
In fiscal year 2021, the Fair Labor Division’s efforts to enforce Massachusetts’ child labor laws remained a focus. In one notable case, the AG’s office cited a management company that operated 10 Dunkin’ locations in the Boston area for $120,000 in penalties after an investigation revealed more than 1,000 violations of the state’s child labor laws.
The AG’s Office also continued to protect the rights of workers in the cleaning and janitorial services industry who are especially vulnerable to exploitation. In total, the division was able to secure nearly $300,000 in restitution and penalties and assist over 950 employees. In one case, Number One Solution LLC, a cleaning company based in Southborough, was required to pay $154,000 in restitution and penalties to resolve allegations of wage theft, failure to maintain an earned sick leave policy and for not producing accurate records.
On National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, AG Healey launched an educational video and training materials, including a digital toolkit, to assist in detecting and reporting the signs of labor trafficking. The materials were also made available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese. The office also continued to work with city and community partners in order to implement trainings on the materials and distribute them to communities across the Commonwealth.
The AG’s Fair Labor Division is currently made up of 50 attorneys, investigators, intake and support staff. Forty percent of the Division’s employees speak at least one other language, including Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Vietnamese. The Division is responsible for enforcing state laws regulating the payment of wages, including minimum wage, overtime, prevailing wage, and earned sick leave. It also protects employees from exploitation and wage theft through strong partnerships and community education.
Winston says to keep track of your hours worked.
“They can keep records of what they worked of where they think heir may be discrepancies of what they worked versus what they’ve been paid,” said Winston.
Workers who believe that their rights have been violated in their workplace can call the office’s Fair Labor Hotline at (617) 727-3465. More information about the state’s wage and hour laws is also available in multiple languages at www.mass.gov/ago/fairlabor.