Northampton council, mayor approve wage compliance measures

  • JERREY ROBERTSNorthampton City Hall

@amandadrane
Published: 2/3/2017 1:09:44 AM

NORTHAMPTON — After about 75 workers and activists rallied alongside the mayor and council president on the steps of City Hall Thursday night, city officials affirmed their commitment to helping ensure employers obey labor laws.

In addition to a resolution, the council unanimously approved a measure that would require some employers to certify their compliance with those laws. Adding another layer of protections, Mayor David Narkewicz also signed two executive orders bolstering wage compliance in the city.

“It seems like we’re moving toward a complete package,” said Ward 1 Councilor Maureen Carney, who co-sponsored the resolution and council order.

Though many of the workers and advocates in the room spoke to issues in the hospitality and construction industries, the council’s order does not apply to those businesses. Instead, the order pertains to businesses under its jurisdiction — storage facilities, firework suppliers, secondhand dealers, taxis and bowling and billiards among them.

Narkewicz’s two orders address businesses the city buys goods from — and provides tax incentives for — to certify their compliance with labor laws. All three orders require affected businesses to sign an affidavit confirming compliance with labor laws.

The resolution is not legally binding, but it expresses support for state-level legislation that would strengthen the attorney general’s enforcement power. It also officially requests that the License Commission and the Community Preservation Committee adopt policies similar to the order, which would affect city businesses more broadly.

Before the vote, proponents of the measures said they’re more important now than ever because the Trump administration is attacking the country’s most vulnerable, and those same people are the ones most exploited by their employers.

“Now is the time for city officials to step up their game,” workers center organizer Diana Sierra told the crowd at the rally before the council meeting, as passing cars honked in solidarity.

The rally was hosted by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and Mass Jobs with Justice. Organizers gave short speeches, chanted and sang songs about their desires — to put an end to wage theft and support the most vulnerable people in the community.

“Now, more than ever, cities need to support workers, immigrants and people of color,” said organizer Lin Geng, who in previous hearings reported unpaid wages in the city’s restaurant industry.

Narkewicz reiterated his commitment to ensuring wage compliance, as well as his commitment to support immigrants. “I’ve probably reaffirmed a hundred times since November,” he said. “We’re a sanctuary city, we’re proud of that and I’m not changing it.”

Council President Bill Dwight stood on the council steps, holding a sign that read: “stop wage theft.”

“It’s absurd that we’re speaking at this level — it’s a pretty low bar,” he said, referencing unpaid wages and the president’s travel ban. “These battles have been fought long, long ago.”

Labor attorney Billy Peard spoke to councilors regarding the need to double down on wage policies. He said if a worker stole the amount of money some employers take in unpaid wages it would be considered a felony.

“There’s a disproportionate response under the law,” he said. And he added that an already-low number of federal labor law staff — 100 nationwide, he said — could be further weakened by the Trump administration.

Dane Kuttler of Orchard Street told councilors to be bolder than ever before. “We are going to ask you to take stronger stances,” she said. “If not, I’m coming for your jobs. I mean it.”

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




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