Amherst councilors propose bylaws to enforce wage, labor laws

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 2/25/2020 2:52:55 PM

AMHERST — The Town Council is considering a package of bylaws that would give Amherst officials some oversight in making sure workers are getting minimum wage and that other labor laws are being followed, such as workers being paid appropriately for overtime work and receiving tips. 

Collectively known as wage theft bylaws, the proposal is being brought forward by District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen, District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis and At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke, and would bring Amherst in line with Northampton, Easthampton, Springfield, Cambridge, and other communities that have adopted similar bylaws and ordinances.

“We propose the council enact three bylaws that together would strengthen Amherst’s ability to assure that employers act responsibly and do not commit practices known as ‘wage theft,’” the councilors wrote in a memo to the board.

On Monday, the councilors gave an overview of the provisions they would like to see enacted.

The first, known as the responsible employer bylaw, would mandate that the town award contracts only to companies following the laws, Hanneke said. It would require any contractor to certify, in writing, that they are in compliance with wage, hour and benefits laws, and have not had violations for the past five years.

The second, the tax incentive or tax relief bylaw, would mean such agreements, under the purview of the Town Council, can be granted only to businesses that follow the bylaw. The bylaw would also have provisions for rescinding or reducing tax incentives.

The third, the wage and tip bylaw, applies to the service industry and offers the potential for fines or possible license loss if workers are not paid appropriately. The bylaw would also create a Wage Theft Advisory Committee that includes members of the Licensing Commission, Human Rights Commission, Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and Pioneer Valley Workers Center.  In addition, the bylaw would require the posting of rights in all establishments and information on how to report a violation or file a complaint.

The rationale for adopting the bylaws is to benefit lower-wage, immigrant, limited English proficiency and female workers and, according to the councilors’ memo: “Workers typically lack the resources, knowledge, or power to secure their rights or fail to act out of fear that complaints or seeking wage justice could put their jobs at risk.”

It goes on to state that “the bylaws would enable Amherst to exercise its considerable purchasing, taxing, and licensing power to ensure that firms doing business in Amherst comply with labor laws. Firms that fail to comply undermine the Amherst economy and standard of living, put businesses that play by the rules at risk, and injure the health and wellbeing of their employees.”


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