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More than $21 million has been collected from employers in Massachusetts who violated labor laws in the last 18 months, according to the annual report of the Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification. The amount represents more than the total that was recovered in all previous years.
The joint task force was created in 2008 and was a welcome development to union carpenters and others who had been working to bring attention to the issue of misclassification. Tens of millions of dollars in state and federal revenue are lost each year due to employee misclassification while employers who play by the rules are put at a competitive disadvantage and workers are stripped of essential protections such as workers' compensation coverage and eligibility for unemployment insurance, Social Security and Medicare.
The issue is especially acute in the construction industry, where the fairness of direct competitive bidding can easily be undermined by a bidder misclassifying employees as independent contractors to save 20-30% on labor cost. Perhaps the largest recent case involved more than $1.1 million in unreported wages found at the renovation of the Boston Marriott Copley Place, where one contractor was paying $4 an hour to employees who were recruited from a substance abuse program in Connecticut. Contractors were issued more than $100,000 in fines on the project.
"The work of the Task Force is invaluable in reducing the growth of the underground economy in the state's construction industry," said Mark Erlich, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. "Taking on the illegal practices of wage theft, misclassification and tax and insurance fraud creates a more level playing field, which ultimately benefits legitimate employers, tradesmen and women and taxpayers."
The joint task force brings together various state agencies, including the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division, the Insurance Fraud Bureau and others.