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Employment Impact Advocacy
The Employment Unit’s main areas of impact advocacy fall into the following broad categories:
Protecting Jobs and Families: Paid Sick Days and Parental Leave
Almost 1 million Massachusetts workers — over one-third of private sector workers! — lack a single guaranteed paid sick day, and over 2/3 are unable to take any sick time to care for a sick child or elderly parent. These workers can lose pay, and even their jobs, when they or a family member becomes sick. And public health is affected when workers without sick time go to work when ill, spreading illness and increasing health insurance, employer, and public costs.
In an effort to ensure that workers do not have to choose between their jobs and their health (or that of their families), the GBLS Employment Unit represents New England United for Justice (NEU4J) and the Coalition Against Poverty, coordinating the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition in a legislative campaign to pass a bill (“An Act Establishing Paid Sick Days”) that would secure up to 7 paid sick days for workers in Massachusetts
In another effort to protect working parents from having to choose between their jobs and their families, the Employment Unit engages in legislative advocacy on behalf of NEU4J and the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition to pass a bill clarifying parental rights to unpaid, job-protected leave for the birth or adoption of a child.
Improving the Unemployment Benefits System for Low-Wage Workers
The Employment Unit has long taken a leading role in strengthening the Massachusetts unemployment benefits system to help low-income workers during periods of joblessness. Current efforts include working to pass legislation (“An Act Modernizing and Protecting the Unemployment Insurance System”) that would increase the taxable wage base and index it to keep up with inflation thereby ensuring that sufficient funds are generated so that unemployment benefits remain available to workers when they are needed.
This legislation, along with another bill (“An Act Restoring Fairness in the Unemployment Insurance Law”) would also address various issues under current law to ensure that low-wage, temporary, and part-time workers are not wrongfully or inappropriately denied unemployment benefits. It would also protect workers from employer retaliation and erroneous redeterminations of their eligibility for unemployment benefits.
In addition to legislative advocacy, the Employment Unit also works to improve the unemployment benefits system through direct advocacy with the Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) to improve access to — and eligibility for — benefits for all low-wage workers, with a particular focus on the needs of limited English proficient workers, non-citizens, domestic violence survivors, disabled or injured workers and those in need of health insurance while unemployed.
Finally, the Employment Unit engages in systemic litigation to ensure full access to unemployment benefits for unemployed low-wage workers. Recent cases include a settlement that will substantially expand notices to claimants in their primary languages and ongoing litigation to address problems of employer fraud.
Combatting 'Wage Theft' through Stronger Wage Enforcement and Laws
The Employment Unit engages in both legislative and administrative advocacy to strengthen the wage laws and their enforcement, in order to protect workers who have been victims of “wage theft.” The Employment Unit represents and works closely with the immigrants’ and workers’ rights community-based and advocacy organizations that are members of the Massachusetts Fair Wage Campaign coalition. This coalition meets regularly with the Office of the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. We advocate for ongoing changes to strengthen wage enforcement, including improved access to wage enforcement for immigrant and limited English proficient workers, strategic or systemic enforcement with particular employers or in particular industries, the use of new tools and approaches for decreasing employer retaliation against workers, and prioritization of cases important to particular communities or groups.
In the legislative arena, the Employment Unit represents members of the Massachusetts Fair Wage Campaign in an effort to pass a bill (“An Act Establishing Uniform Wage Compliance and Recordkeeping”) that would strengthen the wage laws by extending the statute of limitations for minimum wage and overtime claims from two years to three years and that would toll the statute of limitations on wage claims while complaints are pending with the Office of the Attorney General. We also engage in legislative advocacy to defend against efforts to weaken the Massachusetts wage laws by decreasing damages available to workers or exempting employers from coverage under the wage laws. The Employment Unit also submits amicus briefs on behalf of community-based organizations in important appellate cases affecting the wage rights of low-wage workers, including recent cases involving employer deductions from wages and the damages available to misclassified janitorial workers under the Massachusetts independent contractor law.
Advocating for Temporary Workers’ Rights
The Employment Unit represents community-based organizations as part of the REAL (Reform Employment Agency Laws) coalition’s campaign to update the employment agency laws to include regulation of temporary agencies. The coalition is working to pass a bill — “An Act Updating and Streamlining the Employment Agency Law” — that would protect low-wage workers from abuses.
The bill would require temp agencies to provide written notice to workers of key information such as the name of the agency, the worksite employer, a description of the work to be performed and the wage rate. It would also provide workers with information on how to contact the appropriate enforcement agency if they believe their rights are being violated and about their right to workers’ compensation in the event of an injury on the job. The passage of this bill would bring much-needed oversight of temporary agencies including day labor and other fly-by-night agencies that too often exploit and abuse low-wage workers.
Implementing CORI Reform
Since the 2010 legislative victory reforming the CORI system, the Employment Unit has continued to work on CORI reform through systemic advocacy and litigation aimed at creating positive caselaw in the area of CORI-sealing. Recent successes have included advocating for a pilot project in Boston Municipal Court to establish a streamlined process in CORI-sealing cases and for a Roxbury District Court protocol to improve processing of CORI-sealing cases, both of which minimize the hardship to individuals and promote judicial economy. We are currently advocating to ensure that CORI-sealing petitions cannot be denied without a hearing.
We also are developing systemic litigation aimed at overturning court rulings that currently negatively impact individuals with criminal records, as many of these decisions are outdated and were litigated before CORI checks became a routine hiring practice and/or mandated for certain jobs, as well as before CORI-based restrictions emerged in housing, credit, and other areas.