Restaurant workers to talk ‘wage theft’ 

Thursday, April 07, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — On the heels of a report criticizing working conditions in Northampton restaurants, labor activists and workers will gather at Edwards Church at 5 p.m. Thursday to share their stories and suggest ways of dealing with what they allege is “wage theft.”

A study released by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Labor Center and the Pioneer Valley Workers Center last month found that more than three-quarters of 235 Northampton restaurant workers surveyed make less than a living wage — pay high enough to meet a basic standard of living for a single person. According to Living Wage Western Mass, that amount is $13.18 per hour in Northampton. 

The report also asserted that 95 percent of respondents do not get paid sick days, 70 percent did not get overtime pay when working more than 40 hours a week and 30 percent have experienced some verbal harassment at work. 

In an earlier interview with the Gazette, Massachusetts Restaurant Association CEO Bob Lutz denounced the study as “absurd” and said it was tainted by its association with a workers’ rights group that had unsuccessfully attempted to unionize employees at Hotel Northampton. 

Local restaurant owners say the report unfairly smeared them, and that they make every effort to treat employees well. Employees who spoke to the Gazette echoed that positive message, saying they were making a good wage. 

“We’re reaping the benefits just as much as our owner,” said Chad Furnelli, who works at Spoleto. 

At Thursday’s event, UMass professor Clare Hammonds, who was lead author of the report, will describe the details of the study while several restaurant and construction workers will share their experiences, according to a Facebook post about the event. Other speakers will include representatives from the Restaurant Opportunities Center United and New England Carpenters Union, as well as labor lawyer Jocelyn Jones, who previously worked in the fair labor division of the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. 

The Workers Center is calling on the City Council to pass a wage-theft ordinance, which would tie business licenses to labor law compliance. 

Stephanie McFeeters can be reached at smcfeeters@gazettenet.com.