Study shows wage theft rampant in construction industry

By Katie Johnston GLOBE STAFF MAY 12, 2015

For more than three years, workers doing asbestos removal and demolition jobs for several Woburn companies were paid in cash, resulting in more than $700,000 in unreported wages, federal prosecutors charged in an indictment last week.

Meanwhile, construction workers around the state – particularly immigrants hired by subcontractors – say they sometimes go for weeks without pay. When they do get paid, it can be less than promised, and overtime pay is virtually nonexistent.

Many of them are hired as independent contractors, without the job protections or tax deductions of a traditional employment relationship.

The practice, known as wage theft, “has reached epidemic levels” in Massachusetts, namely in the booming residential construction industry, according to research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In the past 18 months, the state attorney general’s office has issued more wage violation citations against employers in the construction industry than in any other sector – 253 citations in all, resulting in more than $1.6 million being recovered in penalties and unpaid wages. The attorney general’s office said cracking down on wage theft continues to be a priority.