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HOLYOKE — Mayoral candidate Rebecca Lisi joined acting Mayor Terence Murphy in support of a plan to require that contractors on city jobs pay employees properly.

The proposed wage theft ordinance would be aimed at ensuring not only that workers get the pay due to them, but also that contractors pay taxes and workers’ compensation.

Lisi, a city councilor at large, led a discussion of the proposed wage theft ordinance in a meeting May 25, 2021 of the City Council Ordinance Committee, of which she is chairwoman. The discussion will continue at a later meeting.

“We learned that more dollars are lost to wage theft than any other crime and it affects those people who can least afford it– usually laborers who typically have the least ability or resources for recourse,” Lisi said. “The Attorney General’s office supports localities taking action to incentivize compliance.”

The committee discussed the proposal that Murphy, who also is the Ward 2 representative on the City Council, filed in April. The order had been filed previously by Lisi who joined Murphy as a co-sponsor on this filing. The council referred the proposal to the Ordinance Committee.

The Murphy-Lisi order states:

Ordered that the City Council consider adopting a wage theft ordinance for all contractors doing projects for the city or receiving special tax incentives by the city similar to Easthampton and Springfield with the following purposes: 

—prevent misclassification of employees as independent contractors; 

—assure that employees are paying all payroll taxes and workers compensation premiums; 

—comply with state laws governing the payment of prevailing wages; 

—assure that contractors provide opportunities for Holyoke residents, veterans, people of color and women.

The website of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said fair treatment of workers is a matter of law, and her office will investigate violations.

“Workers have the right to be paid for all the time that they work and to be paid on time,” the website said. “Workers who think their rights were violated can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division.”

Earlier this month, Healey said that three C-Mart grocery stores in Downtown Boston and Quincy and their owners were cited nearly $1 million in restitution and penalties for wage theft and other violations affecting over 150 employees.

Holyoke councilors discussed the proposed wage theft ordinance with Lisa Clauson of the Carpenters Labor Management Program / North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters of Springfield, and Charles Payne of Carpenters Union Local 336 of Springfield.

Scale is an issue in such problems. Scott Goulding, of Holyoke, a retired union carpenter said during the Ordinance Committee meeting that while workers could file a complaint with the state, most wage theft victims don’t have the luxury to spend hours on the phone daily pursuing such restitution against big companies, according to MassLive.com.

Lisi said that what the city wants with such an ordinance is that contractors who play by the rules — pay employees properly, pay taxes and pay workers’ comp — should not have to compete against companies that have been known to have violated wage and hour rules. 

The proposed ordinance would arm the city with tools if wage theft is found to have occurred, she said.

Contractors and developers who receive public funds under city contracts would need to ensure all of the contractors and subcontractors that perform construction work connected on the publicly supported project essentially do one thing, she said: Follow existing wage and hour laws, properly classify employees, provide workers’ comp insurance, follow health care laws and pay taxes.

The ordinance would establish penalties for contractors who have engaged in wage theft. Such contractors could lose the right to work on municipal projects, which often are worth millions of dollars, for example, she said.

Labor has long had a friend in Lisi, who is in her 14th year on the City Council. She has been endorsed in previous election campaigns by the Pioneer Valley Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO (now the Area Labor Federation, ALF); United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459; Carpenters Local 108 (336); International Brotherhood of Ironworkers, Local 108; United Auto Workers 2322; Neighbor to Neighbor MA; Mass Alliance; and Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Among Massachusetts cities and towns that have adopted wage theft ordinances are Springfield, Easthampton, Northampton, Amherst, Worcester, Boston and New Bedford, according to the union officials.

The City Council voted April 12 to appoint Murphy acting mayor until a new mayor is chosen in the city election Nov. 2. The step became necessary when former Mayor Alex B. Morse left March 26 to become town manager of Provincetown, Massachusetts.

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