On Tuesday night, the Lynn City Council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that would block dishonest contractors and subcontractors from doing business with the city through public bids.
Lynn joins a growing list of cities and towns in the state that are seeking to further protect workers. Lynn will form a volunteer Wage Theft Council appointed by the Mayor and City Council. The six member volunteer board will be charged with reviewing lists of contractors and subcontractors looking to do business with the City of Lynn. The volunteers will then see if these contractors are on any wage violation lists with the Attorney General’s Office.
“The Carpenters Union has more than 200 members in Lynn. This is not a union or non-union issue. This is a worker rights issue,” Union Organizer Chris Galatis said. “Our members have protections, but we are here tonight to see that all workers are treated fairly. Wage theft hurts us all.”
Others at Tuesday’s meeting testified about the practice of some big contractors hiring out small independent family owned subcontracting companies and then not paying what was owed at the end of the job. Several small business owners testified how they were bilked out of tens of thousands of dollars after completing a construction job.
At the meeting Cindy Marks of the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division said her department is the primary enforces of wage laws but the department has been looking for more cities and towns to become partners in the effort to curb wage theft. With over 6,000 cases last year and the department on track to investigate another 6,000 this years, Marks said while the state has laws in place against wage theft it’s tough for the overtaxed department to ensure all violators are not getting government contracts once they are in violation.
“In Lynn last year we’ve received complaints about 40 businesses and recovered $80,000 for workers,” said Marks. “With the federal government pulling back on funding we are looking for partners wherever we can to help.”
Ordinances like the one passed by the Council Tuesday night helps take some of the burden off the Attorney General’s office from having to keep watch on local government contracts and whether or not they are being done by wage violators. The burden would shift to the volunteer board who will now become the watchdog for fair labor practices in the City.
“Someone has to step in here,” said Ward 6 Councilor Peter Capano. “We have $7,000,000 in unpaid wages (in the state) and this is money that could go to cities and towns. Someone has to speak up for the workers and protect workers and show them the same respect we show employers and I think this ordinance does that.”
At Large City Councilor Brian LaPierre added that the ordinance will now hold companies accountable that violate wage laws.
According to the language of the ordinance passed Tuesday Lynn will now require contractors and businesses to report if they or one of their subcontractors have been cited for wage theft. The ordinance will prevent future wage theft by ensuring that businesses that have been found guilty of wage theft violations by the Attorney General post a wage bond in order to receive a city contract. It will mandate that violators pay all fines in order to receive a city contract, permit, license, or tax break. The ordinance creates a wage theft advisory council including representatives from community groups, Lynn businesses, labor unions, city council, and the mayor’s office. The advisory council will be supported the City of Lynn by monitoring citations issued by the Attorney General’s office
However, not everyone was in favor of the ordinance.
Rick Wood of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce worried passage of the ordinance would scare off some.
“There has been considerable debate on this issue,” said Wood. “This is a redundant law because there is already state laws on the books against wage theft. I believe this will defiantly scare away some people looking to do business in Lynn. I fear it will make the city look unfriendly to business, business that means jobs for our city.”
Wood added that some of the language in the ordinance requiring contractors looking to do business with the City of Lynn that the city can go back five years to ensure they, or a subcontractor they once hired, had not violated wage laws.
Wood said this would put an unfair ‘burden’ on these businesses.