By Steph Solis MassLive Staff | September 07, 2020
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office identified 12,939 employees affected by labor rights violations in fiscal 2020, a 16% increase from the previous year.
The AG’s Fair Labor Division made employers pay $6.65 million in restitution and $5.68 million in penalties with the highest number of assessments coming from the hospitality industry, according to AG Maura Healey’s 2020 Labor Day report published Monday morning.
More than 6,000 complaints across all industries were wage and hourly pay complaints.
“As we work together to emerge from this crisis and reopen our economy, my Fair Labor Division will continue to rigorously enforce the state’s wage and hour laws to ensure that every worker in every industry is treated fairly under the law,” Healey said in a statement.
The close to 13,000 employees referenced in the report are not necessarily the total number of workers hit by wage theft, workplace safety and other labor violations. They are just the ones known to the state.
The hospitality industry, mostly restaurants and hotels, made up 27% of assessments. One of the largest assessments in the industry came from a Dunkin’ location, known as HG Donuts, Inc. over child labor violations. The company was cited $110,000 for failing to supervise minors when they worked after 8 p.m. In one case, one of the employees alleged she was sexually harassed while working after 8 p.m. without a supervisor.
Fugakyu, which has restaurants in Brookline, Sudbury and Lynnfield, agreed to pay nearly $75,000 in restitution and penalties after failing to pay servers minimum wage, misclassifying delivery drivers as independent contractors and earned sick time violations, according to the report.
About 21% of assessments came from “other industries,” followed by 19% of assessments from the construction industry.
In fiscal 2019, employers in the construction industry had to pay 32% of all assessments over labor citations, the highest share of any industry in Massachusetts.
This past fiscal year, Healey’s office cited construction companies collectively a total of $2.5 million in penalties and back wages on behalf of 520 workers.
“Protecting workers in the construction industry remained a priority for Fair Labor in FY2020,” the report states.
A significant portion of those assessments came from Chicopee-based Pilgrim Interiors. In December, Pilgrim Interiors received three citations totaling nearly $1 million in restitution and penalties after underpaying 59 carpenters. The carpenters were underpaid $369,628 over 2 1/2 years, according to Healey’s office.
The Fair Labor Division said Pilgrim Interiors also “took credit from the prevailing wage for fringe benefit contributions that were never made,” according to the report. Healey’s office referred the case to the U.S. Department of Labor, alleging the contractor never added the money to employee retirement accounts.
As COVID-19 shut down businesses across Massachusetts, several companies left workers without their final paychecks. Healey’s office said it recovered more than $400,000 for more than 600 employees after the pandemic was declared.
The state also received calls and emails from thousands of workers who were concerned about the safety standards at their workplace during the pandemic. The Fair Labor Division responded to more than 15,000 constituents who reached out to the AG’s office between March 11 and June 30. The report does not include complaints or requests for resources from the new fiscal year, which began July 1.
The state’s Health and Safety Task Force responded to 1,200 workers who filed complaints about their employers. The task force worked with local boards of health, the Department of Labor Standards, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the state Department of Public Health on information sharing and follow-up meetings with employers.
Twenty-five staffing agencies were collectively assessed $680,000 in restitution and penalties for violations of the Temporary Workers Right to Know Law, according to the report. The 2012 law requires staffing agencies to notify temporary workers of where they have been placed, the address, the rate of pay they’re supposed to get and safety equipment they might need. They’re also supposed to be protected from excessive transportation fees.
According to the Fair Labor Division, Labor Connections Inc., had to pay $32,500 in penalties after deducting $114,000 in transportation fees from minimum-wage workers.
Despite the workplace shutdown due to COVID-19, the Fair Labor Division visited more worksites in fiscal 2020. Division investigators visited 173 visits to worksites across 92 cities and towns before mid-March.
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