Wage theft has been described as “the crime no one talks about.” Every year, billions of dollars in wages are stolen from millions of workers throughout the United States, including many here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Workers are not paid the minimum wage, are not paid overtime, are misclassified as independent contractors, or are not paid at all. Although it is a serious problem throughout our society, wage theft particularly impacts countless numbers of immigrants who are especially vulnerable due to their status issues.
Watch this 3 minute video video taken at an event at the Massachusetts state house where those in attendance, including some of us, were supporting an anti-wage theft bill.
Some of the indications of the extent of the problem of wage theft here in Massachusetts are as follows:
- In 2013, the Massachusetts Attorney General, who is responsible for enforcing the Commonwealth’s wage and hour laws, informed the Supreme Judicial Court: “Nonpayment of wages continues to be a significant economic problem. Each year the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division receives nearly 30,000 telephone inquiries and 3,500-4,000 formal written complaints reporting violations of the Wage and Hour Laws.” The Attorney General states on her website that the volume of complaints received by her office is so large, “We cannot investigate every complaint we receive.”
- In 2014, the Massachusetts legislature established a Council on the Underground Economy in the bill it enacted to raise the Commonwealth’s minimum wage. Included among the council’s responsibilities is the coordination of the Commonwealth’s efforts to combat the underground economy and employee misclassification, including efforts to combat wage theft.
- In January 2015, legislation “to prevent wage theft and promote employer accountability” was filed with the Massachusetts legislature.
- In May 2015, the UMass Amherst Labor Center published a report funded by the Massachusetts legislature titled, “The Epidemic of Wage Theft in Residential Construction in Massachusetts.”
Wage theft not only hurts the workers and their families who are its direct victims. It also adversely affects their local economies of which they are a part. And it also deprives federal, state and local government agencies of staggering amounts of tax revenues and other payments, such as payments for unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation.
To learn more about the problem of wage theft throughout America, see:
- Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid—And What We Can Do About It, Kim Bobo
- “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities,” National Employment Law Project
- “An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year,” Economic Policy Institute
Opportunities to get involved with the Task Force’s Wage Theft Initiative:
- Contact your legislators and demand that the problem be addressed.
- Participate in protest actions sponsored by the Metrowest Worker Center and other groups that bring pressure on employers who cheat workers out of rightfully-earned wages.
- From time to time the Worker Center provides opportunities to participate in protest actions. The need for such public protests arises when a general contractor in the construction business pays the subcontractor who then cheats the workers out of what they are owed for their labor.
Point Person: Bill Okerman email@example.com