Northampton City Council, mayor to consider wage compliance measures

  • Bess Hepner, at podium, speaks during a press conference held to discuss recent research findings about the local restaurant industry April 7 at Edwards Church. JERREY ROBERTS—Jerrey Roberts

@amandadrane
Published: 1/17/2017 11:12:30 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After more than six months of exploration, the City Council and the mayor are bringing forward measures to help ensure employers comply with labor laws.

On Thursday, the council will consider an order that would require some employers to sign an affidavit indicating their business follows wage and hour laws. Additionally, the body will consider a resolution that calls on the License Commission and Community Preservation Committee to adopt similar policies for employers that fall under their jurisdiction.

The order, sponsored by Councilors Maureen Carney and Alisa Klein, would require employers licensed under the council — including secondhand dealers, billiards and bowling, taxis and some storage facilities — to sign the form as part of their license application and renewal process.

“It’s a test to certify that you don’t have those wage and hour violations,” Carney said Tuesday. “And it’s public information if there is a finding.”

While the council’s order only covers a small fraction of the employers in Northampton, Carney said she hopes the License Commission will draft a similar policy that would cast a much wider net. The council is also asking the Community Preservation Committee to require affidavits from employers slated to receive Community Preservation Act funds.

Lastly, Mayor David Narkewicz said he’s drafting an executive order that would ensure businesses from which the city procures goods and services, and businesses that receive tax incentives, do not have labor findings against them.

“We kind of mapped this all out,” Narkewicz said. “We wanted to make sure there was sort of a unified approach.”

Carney said a report released jointly by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and the UMass Labor Center last March initially inspired her to explore the legislation. Then, testimony provided in city-sponsored hearings and an investigation launched by the Daily Hampshire Gazette — which found at least seven Chinese restaurants in the county pay immigrant workers less than minimum wage — cemented her intentions.

“The attorney general’s office has said this is an issue; in your publication’s series of articles we see it’s an issue in our own Pioneer Valley,” she said. “This attempts to address these issues at the local level.”

Attorney General Maura Healey’s review of the issues raised in the Gazette’s series remains ongoing. “We are committed to working with the Legislature to make sure that we have the tools we need to address and combat wage theft,” Emalie Gainey, a spokeswoman for Healey, said in a statement Tuesday.

Narkewicz and Carney said the city will not investigate violations, but rather will rely on judgments passed by Healey and by the courts.

Employers found to be in violation of labor laws can still retain their license as long as they put down a wage bond. The bond would vary with the size of the business, Carney said, but would likely cover one year of employees’ wages.

“I think that it creates a partnership with the attorney general’s office to help address the issue broadly,” she said. “It does act as a deterrent — I think employers treat the issue a little more seriously if things are at stake, such as a local license.”

Narkewicz said the measures amount to the city’s commitment to do what’s in its authority to make sure employers are following wage and hour laws.

“We believe strongly businesses should follow state laws,” he said. “Those that don’t — it sets up an uneven playing field for other businesses.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.


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