Columnist Dennis Bidwell: Addressing downtown Northampton’s challenges (MA)


Monday, June 05, 2017
The Northampton City Council Committee on Community Resources, through public forums and a variety of presentations and submitted reports, has learned a great deal about both the strengths of the local economy, particularly as it affects downtown Northampton and the center of Florence, and about a variety of local challenges.
The efforts of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and several labor unions produced considerable testimony, particularly from restaurant and construction workers, about their experiences with some local employers failing to comply with wage and labor laws. We also heard from restaurant owners describing their compliance with these laws, as well as their concern that the media’s attention on just one perspective about the issue left many restaurant owners feeling they were maligned as a group.

This attention to wage-theft issues yielded three actions taken by the city. First, issuance by the mayor of an executive order requiring that all contractors seeking procurement contracts with the city, or seeking tax increment financing agreements, certify their compliance with wage and hour laws. Second, passage by the City Council of a resolution declaring Northampton a fair employment city, and calling on the city’s License Commission and Community Preservation Committee to adopt similar requirements regarding contractor certifications. And third, urging additional wage-theft enforcement powers and resources for the state attorney general’s office, and approval of a council order requiring all applicants coming before the council for licenses to affirm their compliance with wage and labor laws.

Santa Fe judge allows wage-theft enforcement suit to continue

By T.S. Last/Journal NorthFriday, April 28th, 2017 at 4:56pm

SANTA FE – District Court Judge David K. Thomson on Friday rejected a motion by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions to dismiss a lawsuit filed claiming the department was not enforcing state wage theft laws.

The lawsuit was filed in January by four people who say they were victims of wage theft and a coalition of workers’ rights groups. They allege that the department doesn’t hold guilty employers liable for statutory damages during the administrative enforcement phase of a case; improperly imposes a $10,000 cap on investigating wage theft claims; doesn’t investigate or take action against a business when a claim is more than a year old; and refuses claims when workers get snagged by administrative red tape.

“This ruling reaffirms that every hard working New Mexican – not just those with the money to hire lawyers – deserves to be paid for their work,” Elizabeth Wagoner of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a news release. “Our state government cannot turn a blind eye when employers break laws protecting working people.”

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Total netted from state’s misclassification fight exceeds $1.1 million

By: Dan Shaw,
March 15, 2017 4:54 pm

State officials’ efforts to crack down on companies that misclassify direct employees as independent contractors has generated more than $1 million for the state’s unemployment-benefits system over the past few years.

The state began stepping up its enforcement of misclassification laws several years ago. Since then, those efforts have recovered nearly $1.13 million worth of in unpaid unemployment-insurance taxes, penalties and interest, according to a report on the state’s unemployment fund released by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development on Wednesday.

Worker misclassification is believed to be particularly rampant in the construction industry, where frequent seasonal layoffs can blur the line between a permanent employee and someone hired for a particular job. Industry officials say deliberate misclassification not only deprives the state of unemployment taxes and other resources; it also gives dishonest companies an advantage by enabling them to avoid the sort of costs that their more scrupulous rivals often end up rolling into bid prices.

The state reported Wednesday that auditors found 8,613 misclassified workers at Wisconsin companies last year. The same year saw tipsters use a state-run website to report 59 instances of suspected misclassification.

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Workers urge Legislature to stop wage theft

By Barb Kucera, Workday Minnesota
March 2, 2017

ST. PAUL – Workers who have lost thousands of dollars to wage theft descended on the state Capitol Thursday to urge lawmakers to beef up enforcement against employers who break the law.

With only about a week left for the Legislature to hear policy bills, anti-wage theft legislation has yet to have a hearing. The measure would give the state Department of Labor and Industry more enforcement tools and an increased budget to hire four additional wage and hour investigators to do proactive outreach across the state. It would empower workers with more information and impose stiffer penalties for violators.

An investigation by Workday Minnesota has found wage theft in Minnesota is larger and more widespread than most people realize – and the problem is growing. The Department of Labor and Industry estimates that 39,000 Minnesota workers suffer from wage theft each year, resulting in $11.9 million in wages owed, and that’s only what goes reported. Wage theft occurs when:

  • Employers refuse to pay their employees for work performed
  • Employers violate minimum wage, prevailing wage, and overtime protections
  • Employers make unlawful paycheck deductions
  • Employers coerce employees to work off the clock
  • Employers misclassify employees as an independent contractors to avoid paying workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance


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OP-ED: Wage theft is preventable

February 28, 2017, 05:00 AM
By Rick Bonilla

Many flaws ultimately doomed President Trump’s labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder, but among the most serious were allegations that his own companies had failed to comply with the very same wage laws that the Labor Department is responsible for enforcing. In Puzder’s case, the issue was that his fast food companies had failed to pay workers for all the hours they had worked, including overtime.

This is called wage theft and it’s much more common and widespread than you probably think.

It also impacts far more than just workers. When businesses steal workers’ wages, they gain a competitive advantage over honest businesses that play by the rules. And, when wages are stolen, so are required payroll and income taxes that are used to fund all types of public services – services on which every taxpayer relies.

In California, wage theft costs taxpayers about $8.5 billion every year, according to the Franchise Tax Board. About 10 percent of that comes from the construction industry, where I’ve worked for much of my career.

While there are state and federal agencies tasked with enforcing labor laws – the reality is that just a fraction of the employers who cheat their workers are ever brought to justice. Many workers who are victimized never file claims. Amongst those who do and receive judgments, only about 20 percent are ever paid. Such dismal enforcement statistics really only encourage more lawbreaking.

In a construction context, it works like this. A builder or general contractor hires subcontractors to do much of the work on a project. If one of the subcontractors cheats his workers, the lead contractor or builder can legally deny having any responsibility. President Trump has done this on his own projects.

Subcontractors can then disappear, shut down, shift assets to a relative, or reform under a different name to avoid payment. And then the cycle repeats.

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Sep 20, 2016 / by Katherine C. Parris

Employee misclassification causes headaches for both workers and employers, and the federal government and the states are joining hands to ease the pain.

Misclassification often has substantial consequences for all parties involved-employers and workers, as well as the federal government and the states. Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor may result in denial of minimum wages, overtime compensation, family and medical leave, and unemployment and workplace safety protections. Employers may face costly lawsuits and be liable for unpaid overtime and minimum wages, as well as back pay, court costs and attorneys’ fees.

For these reasons, the Department of Labor is entering into enforcement partnerships with state agencies for “information sharing and coordinated enforcement” in support of its Misclassification Initiative, according to its website.

Joint federal-state efforts likely will continue to play a large role in the future of worker misclassification enforcement as more states enter into formal agreements with the DOL.

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IRS Hiring Additional Agents, Providing Additional Resources for Misclassification Enforcement

by Scott Braddock
Wed, 05/25/2016 – 7:53am

The recent announcement by the IRS Commissioner that the agency is moving forward with hiring hundreds of additional agents has sparked a debate about exactly how those new resources should be utilized. Some leaders in the construction industry have told Construction Citizen that if the government has more people on hand to enforce the law, proper classification of workers should be a priority.

Misclassification is the practice of designating an employee as a “1099 worker” or an independent contractor when that person, by law, should be compensated as an employee.

Unscrupulous employers do it as a way of sidestepping payroll taxes, unemployment taxes, and workers’ compensation insurance. Even though there are many legitimate uses of contract labor, abuse of the classification gives cheating companies an ability to submit lower bids for projects, undercutting ethical contractors who follow the letter of the law.

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Increasing enforcement at state and local levels in Massachusetts combats wage theft

Monday, February 15, 2016

NORTHAMPTON – Efforts are underway on the state and local levels in communities across Massachusetts to combat wage theft, the practice of employers denying workers the pay to which they are legally entitled.

Labor activists say wage theft is an unfortunate practice in workplaces throughout the country. It’s not uncommon for bosses to deny workers earned overtime, sick time or even the minimum wage, they say. The practice is particularly prevalent in the restaurant industry, which employs about 40 percent of all workers making at or below the minimum wage nationwide. It’s also common in the landscaping and construction industries, studies have found.

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Labor Department Sharpening Focus on Misclassification

Wednesday, November 19, 2014
By K. W. Mitchell

In combating employee misclassification, the Labor Department is taking strategic misclassification enforcement to the next level by placing greater priority on measures that are tactical and swift, a department official said.

“To carry out our job, we must be prudent and strategic in our enforcement actions,” said David Weil, administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

“We need to create ripple effects that impact compliance far beyond the workplaces where we physically conduct investigations, or the organizations to which we provide outreach directly,” Weil said Oct. 31 in a blog post.

Additionally, the division needs to be persistent in discovering ways to “make our investigation of one employer resonate throughout that particular sector and influence the behaviors of employers across that entire industry, to promote compliance across networks of business organizations,” Weil said.

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$10.2M awarded to fund worker misclassification detection, enforcement activities in 19 state unemployment insurance programs

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor today awarded $10,225,183 to 19 states to implement or improve worker misclassification detection and enforcement initiatives in unemployment insurance programs.

“This is one of many actions the department is taking to help level the playing field for employers while ensuring workers receive appropriate rights and protections,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “Today’s federal grant awards will enhance states’ ability to detect incidents of worker misclassification and protect the integrity of state unemployment insurance trust funds.


2014 Worker Misclassification Grants

State Regular High Performance Bonus  Total
California $499,792 $499,792
Delaware $27,672 $27,672
Florida $31,792 $31,792
Hawaii $500,000 $500,000
Idaho $500,000 $500,000
Indiana $500,000 $500,000
Maryland $494,600 $400,099 $894,699
Massachusetts $499,800 $499,800
New Hampshire $330,468 $330,468
New Jersey $342,222 $496,399 $838,621
New Mexico $499,970 $499,970
New York $500,000 $500,000
Oregon $500,000 $500,000
South Dakota $500,000 $500,000
Tennessee $499,260 $499,260
Texas $500,000 $775,529 $1,275,529
Utah $500,000 $327,973 $827,973
Vermont $500,000 $500,000
Wisconsin $499,607 $499,607
Totals $8,225,183 $2,000,000 $10,225,183


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