I am excited to introduce a Wage Theft Ordinance for Cambridge. We’ve long heard from union leaders and workers about the prevalence of wage theft in our city. This proposal creates a local mechanism for enforcing such violations as a matter of economic justice for everyone who works here.
Wage theft is no accident. We must stand up to those who exploit their workers to pad profit margins. By paying in cash under the table and well below the prevailing wage, and skimping on payroll taxes, developers and other employers cheat workers and taxpayers at once. It is simply immoral! One recent study found that worker misclassification and off-the-books employment allowed Massachusetts construction employers to illegally reduce labor costs by at least $140 million in 2019. Those who do play by the rules must compete with artificially low bids, putting them at a big disadvantage. Workers treated like this have very little recourse when they get injured on the job. We have to do better!
Ten Essex in Central Square is one example of a project that was built on the backs of exploited labor- there were protests of the contractor’s practices nearly every day at the worksite, and I have seen sworn affidavits from workers who were mistreated. Our ordinance gives the City Manager explicit authority to issue a stop-work order for construction projects until violations are addressed. We need to join the many other cities that have passed this so Cambridge is no longer a haven for contractors seeking to evade the law.
But issues of wage theft and tax fraud are certainly not limited to the construction industry: in 2019, I walked the picket line with workers from Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Central who reported wage theft and a hostile workplace. The chain eventually settled for hundreds of thousands of dollars. To address wage theft across all industries in our city, our ordinance creates a new complaint process and a Wage Theft Enforcement Committee charged with overseeing enforcement. No less than half of the committee members shall be labor representatives, and the council shall approve the roster.
We’re requiring direct communication between the new Enforcement Committee, the Attorney General, and the City Manager. We’re also requiring an annual report to the City Council of complaints made and action taken. These steps create accountability and allow us to monitor effectiveness. I can’t wait to discuss this proposal in the Ordinance Committee, and I hope we will move it to a swift passage in solidarity with the unions and everyone who works in our city. A special thanks to the cosponsors, the Carpenters Union, and everyone else who put in the work on this very important proposal!
One more thing: if you represent working people in Cambridge and you’d like a seat on the new Wage Theft Enforcement Committee, please reach out and let me know. We’d love to have you take part! Just send me an email: [email protected]