Holyoke City Council Continues Discussions on Salary Theft Ordinance
HOLYOKE – The City Council Ordinances Committee has reconsidered a proposed wage theft ordinance that would penalize contractors doing business with the City of Holyoke.
In June, city council tabled the order presented by At-Large Councilor Rebecca Lisi and Ward 2 Councilor Terence Murphy. The ordinance calls for the passage of a wage theft provision passed in Easthampton and Springfield.
If approved, local law will affect contractors doing business with the Town of Holyoke or receiving special tax breaks.
The ordinance seeks to “prevent the misclassification of employees as independent contractors; ensure that employers pay all social charges and workers’ compensation premiums; comply with applicable state laws governing the payment of wages.
A recent bill removes the fairness and hiring provisions, except for veterans.
Lisi held a hearing in May that included testimony from local unions, which described a series of past wage theft violations and penalties imposed by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.
Employers paid $ 6.7 million in restitution and $ 5.7 million in penalties, according to a 2020 report released by the attorney general’s office. In addition, the state has assisted over 12,000 workers during the same period.
Lisi said entrepreneurs must meet the diversity hiring goals set by the Commonwealth of Nations. Ward 5 Councilor Linda Vacon has requested that “shall” be deleted with respect to hires, which makes the order less contradictory.
“We want to be business friendly, but we want businesses to comply with state law,” Vacon said. “We don’t have a very good track record in enforcing our ordinances in the city. I don’t know who would do that?
Murphy proposed that contractors “strive” to hire veterans, while Lisi added that contractors “will strive” to meet various employment goals under general Massachusetts law. “We’re not creating any additional thresholds or requirements, but it serves as a reminder,” Lisi said.
The city’s purchasing manager, Lori Bélanger, agreed with Vacon that the language of the ordinance was too strong. “A lot of what is in this ordinance the city addresses with the contract,” she said, and the terms of the ordinance would exceed the standard and binding agreement.
Bélanger said going wages are already a requirement, whether contract work is a dollar or a million dollars. “We provide legally effective wage statements in tender documents,” she added.
During the tendering process, the town of Holyoke sets out the “ground rules” of applicable laws, Bélanger noted, including current wages, safety and environmental rules, and guidelines. in insurance and workers’ compensation.
“This information is given to the bidder right out of the box. They know that when they receive the tender document, those are the terms of the contract, ”said Bélanger. In recent years, she has tried to strengthen contract language. “I think we are on a solid footing compared to other communities. “
Lisi said the Salary Theft Ordinance identifies areas that contractors must comply with and the city’s entity collects related data and information. She added that the regulation specifies the “repercussions” if the order is violated.
Bélanger said the attorney general’s office should guide municipalities through the enforcement process. For example, all offers received must reflect current wages and that contractors must “demonstrate their ability to pay” agreed wages.
Lisi responded that the data collected would reveal if a salesperson engaged in salary theft when a complaint was filed.
Bélanger said she “conceptually” understood the intent of the order, but was not sure on the compliance part if enforcement would fall at the local, state or federal level. She recommended to the city’s legal department to review the general language of the ordinance, in particular the punitive aspects.
Bélanger was concerned that the ordinance would disrupt businesses or nonprofits that benefit from tax incentives or subsidies. In addition, a business can request money up front to cover administrative costs associated with the prescription.
Murphy said he understands Bélanger’s concerns, but that suppliers are obligated to pay and treat employees fairly. Violations filed with the attorney general’s office and information gathered by the city would be matched, he added.
If a breach did occur, the city would take action against the contractor, Murphy said. “The general contractor has to be aware of what the subcontractors are doing and not doing,” he said.
Murphy renewed the order after speaking with many workers underpaid by employers. “The merit of making sure contractors follow the rules is good not only for other contractors who follow the rules, but it’s fair for the employees who do the job.”
Vacon said the city does not need another unenforceable ordinance on the books. However, she requested more information from the Bélanger department and a review by the Legal Department before making an order.
Holyoke Media live streamed the September 28 meeting, including the full discussion of the Salary Theft Order.
Lisa Clauson, of the Carpenters Work Management Program, said the language of contracts could change with new municipal governments and department heads. Thirteen communities in Massachusetts have adopted similar ordinances.
“There has been no legal challenge to these orders,” Clauson said. “They are basically saying you can cheat the workers and still get contracts with the city.” She added that entrepreneurs who steal wages are also deceiving taxpayers, with some vendors continuing to operate unchecked.
Clauson supported a one-page affidavit claiming that the contractor had not committed theft of wages or similar offenses. She added that the ordinance presents a “level playing field”.
Planning director Aaron Vega called the inclusion of companies to receive tax incentives in the ordinance “onerous.” He said city hall staff were already overloaded with current workloads. “It’s not worth having ordinances on books that you can’t enforce,” he said.
The committee requested a review by the legal department and additional information from the purchasing department. Holyoke Media broadcast live the September 28 meeting, including the discussion of the Salary Theft Ordinance.