Massachusetts Community Labor United Wage Theft/Subcontracting Advocacy

The Hyams Foundation spoke with Darlene Lombos, Executive Director of Massachusetts Community Labor United,


Massachusetts Community Labor
United Executive Director Darlene

about the work the organization is doing to combat wage theft.

1. Why is a statewide bill preventing wage theft and subcontracting necessary? 

DL: Wage theft has been a growing crisis across the nation, and Massachusetts is not immune to employers skirting their responsibilities to workers through subcontracting, labor brokers, temp agencies ,and other practices. We need to update our labor laws and tools to enforce those laws in this new economy where there is not a direct relationship between employer and employee. This bill is about a social contract: an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Unfortunately, employers and businesses have found ways to game the system, and we’re simply trying to level the playing field for those businesses who do play by the rules. 

The municipal ordinances in Boston, Chelsea, and Cambridge are good for the state because the Commonwealth loses about $300 million in payroll taxes, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance a year. There are businesses that are using bad labor practices to win bids on jobs. It makes it difficult for good businesses to compete because they know the other businesses can lowball because they’re not paying their workers fairly.

It’s good for communities because it provides an honest day’s pay for the work they’re doing. There’s potentially $700 million stolen from workers yearly.

2. Could you talk a bit about your communications campaign and its effectiveness?

DL: We knew that our primary communications strategy involved grassroots leaders and workers talking to their legislators and the community and taking direct action against employers. There are a lot of people who don’t know that wage theft happens; people just assume that you work and get paid. But I think it surprises people that workers are not getting paid some times. They’re not getting paid minimum wage, overtime, or at all. We thought it would be important for the general public to understand that wage theft is a problem and it happens every minute of every day. We use digital counters on two billboards to show how much money is stolen every minute. 

When we talked to legislators, they tell us they see the billboards on their drives home. The billboards were up for about two and a half weeks. Those kinds of communications are good. We got an article in the Boston Globe. You can’t just put a billboard up; it’s how you utilize it, how you draw the attention of legislators and others.

 3. What can people do right now to support his effort?

DL: You can click on our "Take Action" link to send your state representative a message. It’d be really great if people call the co-sponsors of the bill, Representatives Michlewicz and Hogan, and let them know that their representative supports the bill; call Speaker DeLeo’s office and ask that the bill be put to the floor for debate; and call your state representative and ensure your legislator votes yes. 
4. If the bill doesn’t pass this session, what can people do between now and the next legislative session to be supportive?

DL: There are going to be a number of things we’ll be doing in the next six months; there are several cities that are looking to pass a municipal ordinance mandating that licensed and permitted businesses engage in responsible business practices and pay their workers fairly. We’re looking at such cities and towns as Northampton, Springfield, Worcester, Quincy, Fall River, and New Bedford, and there are lots of other cities that can do the same. 

5. What else would you like to add about this campaign?

DL: The Hyams Foundation cares a lot about grassroots leadership and our policy advocacy comes from the ground up; nothing is top down. This legislation was a policy that was talked through with member organizations and workers themselves. We worked with policymakers and lawyers and workers who are dealing with this every day. This is real democracy in action; the people most effected by issues are coming up with a solution for themselves, and we need our policymakers to act. This is a bottom-up effort and legislators and elected officials should play their role to support democracy in action. 


CLU has worked with community and labor allies to pass local wage theft ordinances in Cambridge, Boston, and Chelsea to monitor and hold employers, companies, and subcontractors accountable, up and down the line, for fair wages and benefits of workers employed. Ultimately, to minimize unethical and illegal employment practices across Massachusetts, the campaign seeks to pass strong state legislation, based on the local ordinances, that would be applied to employers across the state. The first milestone in this effort was reached in July, 2016, with the Massachusetts Senate passing S.2416, An Act to Prevent Wage Theft and Promote Employer Accountability. The legislation now goes to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.