By Paul Garver
Metrowest Worker Center Recovers Wages for 3 Hotel Workers
Wakefield, MA — On December 20th, workers and supporters demanded managers pay back wages when they made a surprise visit at the Five Points Marriott Hotel in Wakefield. The action got results: three days later, three Brazilian immigrant workers confirmed that they had received their paychecks. It’s estimated $800 million is stolen annually from workers by their employers in Massachusetts.
The delegation was led by the Framingham-based Metrowest Workers Center [CASA in Spanish and Portuguese] and included the Center Director Diego Low, volunteer workers from the Center, one of the unpaid workers, and members of immigrant solidarity organizations that partner with the Workers Center, including two from MetroWest Boston DSA (Democratic Socialists of America).
The delegation delivered a signed letter to the hotel manager asking that the hotel require its cleaning contractor Castro Construction to pay back wages owed to three Brazilian immigrant women working as cleaners at the hotel. Refusing to accept the claim that no managers were available, the delegation milled around the hotel lobby, insisting to speak with a hotel manager with the authority to ensure that the women get paid.
Eventually two hotel managers emerged, read the signed letter, and promised to meet with their cleaning contractor to require that the workers receive their stolen wages.
Three days later, Aparacida C., Janice G., and Dalila C. confirmed that they had received their paychecks.
Castro Construction also owes larger sums of stolen pay to at least eleven immigrant workers it formerly employed at the Five Points Marriott Hotel in Newton. It may be necessary to go through the laborious process set up by the Attorney General’s office to recover their stolen wages.
Although many permanent workers also suffer from wage theft in the form of non-payment of overtime and other abusive practices, it is immigrant workers — especially undocumented construction and service workers — that are especially vulnerable to out-and-out wage theft. Their employers, usually labor brokers and sub-contractors, assume that undocumented workers, fearing deportation, and are therefore unlikely to take legal steps to recover their pay or collect the benefits to which they are entitled.
In his report back to CASA supporters, Diego Low wrote:
The three women owed wages for their work at Four Points Wakefield received their back wages yesterday. The hotel collected the payments from the labor broker and advised CASA Thursday, allowing time to collect and distribute them the funds for their families’ holidays. CASA will be looking at strategies for pursuing strategies for collecting wages for the other dozens of workers owed wages by the broker at other hotels, where we lack the leverage of an ongoing contract.
These strategies might include trying to recover stolen wages at the Five Points Newton Marriott. The global Marriott chain would suffer reputational harm from the shady practices of the labor brokers and contractors that were hired by its hotel managers to cut costs.
CASA could also work with statewide labor unions and other immigrant and community organizations to compel the state legislature to make business owners and lead contractors responsible for preventing their subcontractorssub-contractors and labor brokers from cheating workers to keep their bids low. The key issue for CASA is holding not only lead contractors responsible for abusive practices of sub-contractors, but also the companies for which the workers perform services.
CASA is governed by its board composed of immigrant workers, who make the strategic decisions in response to the perceived needs of their communities.
Fighting Wage Theft in Massachusetts
The AFL-CIO, workers centers and immigrant support groups have identified wage theft as a major problem for workers in Massachusetts. Of the approximately $800 million stolen annually from workers by their employers in Massachusetts, the Attorney General’s office has collected and returned only $12.3 million.
Comprehensive legislation against wage theft has failed at the Massachusetts State House for two consecutive sessions. In 2019 some 100 workers packed into a legislative hearing to join with AFL-CIO staff to provide detailed testimony of their experiences with wage theft. Bill 4681, the 2021-22 Act to Prevent Wage Theft, advocated by the AFL-CIO,the Brazilian Workers Center and numerous labor and community organizations, was refused even an up or down vote by business-friendly house leadership.
What should DSA do?
Wage theft is a major problem facing workers in Massachusetts, and one of the most blatant forms of the capitalist exploitation of workers. It is particularly vile because it targets the most vulnerable workers, those with the greatest need to get paid on time, and often with fewer resources to fight back. Workers Centers like the Metrowest Workers Center in Framingham do not see their role as substituting for labor unions, but work with unions to build a stronger organizational and political movement of the working class. As a democratic socialist organization, DSA supports workers centers that like the Metrowest Workers Center.
Specific actions to help the most vulnerable workers, in particular ones without documents, are necessary, but insufficient. DSA should actively support the passage of comprehensive legislation as advocated by labor unions and immigrant rights organizations that would hold all employers and primary contractors responsible for paying wages stolen from workers by the labor brokers and sub-contractors. Ousting business-friendly legislators with a stranglehold over the legislative process like Speaker Mariano from office is needed to enact and enforce legislation against wage theft. Workers deserve much higher wages and more control and ownership of their workplaces. The least the capitalists can do is pay workers what they already said they would pay.
Paul Garver is a member of the Boston DSA.