Today, just three days after Labor Day, Governor Mitt Romney vetoed a bi-partisan bill clarifying provisions of the law protecting a workers’ right to be paid for their work. The bill, which was passed by the legislature last week and sent to the Governor’s desk without opposition from any legislator or business group, is designed to protect workers from unscrupulous employers who withhold wages and to protect honest businesses from cheating competitors. The bill (H. 4663) calls for clarification of existing Wage and Labor laws, restoring the ability of workers to seek and receive triple damages when their employers fail to pay earned wages.
“It’s surprising – and disappointing – that a bi-partisan bill, so clearly beneficial to all Massachusetts employees and without any opposition from the business community would be vetoed by the Governor,” states Philip Gordon, an attorney who focuses on wage and labor laws at the law firm of Gordon Law Group, LLP, and who testified on behalf of the legislation. “It’s a serious problem when employees aren’t paid – missed rent, student loans, tax payments, mortgages, health insurance premiums, car payments, groceries. This veto puts the interests of unscrupulous businesses ahead of the legitimate needs of honest businesses and hard-working citizens.”
While existing laws protect workers against employers who unjustly withhold wages, a level of ambiguity allows compensation compliance problems to persist – no small problem considering the Attorney General’s Fair Labor and Business Practices Division receives thousands of employee complaints per year. The vetoed legislation would clarify those laws to ensure that wage earners are compensated for their losses.
“We should be very clear about what this bill would do. This legislation does not create a penalty for employers. Failing to pay workers is already a crime,” states Rep. Paul Loscocco (R-Holliston), a principle author of the bill. “This law just makes sure that employees who miss their checks are compensated for their losses.”
The law also protects businesses from unfair competition. Massachusetts businesses have long suffered from dishonest competitors who skip payrolls and use the savings to underbid contracts – leaving honest business owners unable to compete on a level playing field.
“In spite of the veto, I’m not giving up on it. This bill is good for both businesses and workers, and it’s rare for a bill to receive such unanimous and bipartisan support in the legislature,” states Rep. Mike Rodrigues, (D- Westport), Chairman of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “I’m bringing this back to the legislature in hopes of securing a veto override before the end of this session. If we can’t get it done before the close of this session, we’ll work to enact it again at the beginning of the next session. Then, hopefully the new Governor – whoever that may be – will understand the need for the important measure of protection this bill provides the workforce and businesses alike.”