Category Archives: Labor In The News

LEGISLATIVE ALERT – MAINTAINING SWORN POLICE OFFICERS AT PRIVATE DETAILS IS UNDER ATTACK! CALL YOUR STATE SENATOR AND REPRESENTATIVE TODAY!

No doubt that you have heard the overactive rumor mill regarding possible legislation on private paid details. Sandulli Grace is in constant contact with the legislative officers of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (MassCOP) and the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA). Here’s what we know as of Tuesday Morning, April 1. This situation is developing hourly, and we will continue to keep you up to date:

The House transportation bill does not contain any attack on the use of sworn police officers to direct traffic at road construction jobs. There is a possibility that the Senate will attach a rider onto its version of the transportation bill that does impact details. If you agree that sworn police officers at private details provide enhanced public safety in a cost effective manner, you should call your senator and representative to let them know how important it is to maintain these protections.

CALL YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVE AND SENATOR TODAY TO TELL THEM WHY sworn police officers at private details provide enhanced public safety in a cost effective manner.

You can look up your senator and representative (and get their phone numbers) here, by going here, http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/myelectioninfo.php

Our client MassCOP has developed the following helpful information regarding details, which you can cite when speaking with your legislators: (You can also download the information as a .pdf using this link: mcop-police-details-make-sense.pdf )

POLICE DETAILS AT WORK ON OUR ROADS PROVIDING ENHANCED PUBLIC SAFETY IN A COST EFFECTIVE MANNER

Putting aside the rhetoric and hyperbole, the facts demonstrate that having sworn police officers assigned to road and highway construction projects – so-called Paid Police Details – provides both enhanced public safety and cost effectiveness.

POLICE DETAILS ENHANCE PUBLIC SAFETY:

Sworn police officers are trained emergency first responders, ready and able to:

  • Perform CPR
  • Utilize defibrillators maintained in cruisers in the case of cardiac episode
  • Communicate effectively with fire and EMS responders, ensuring fast, effective response when accidents occur
  • Just last week, the first responders to the MBTA train tragedy in Canton were four Canton Police Officers (all members of MCOP) working a nearby private detail. These trained offices were able to immediately identify the needs and call for fire and ambulance services, and begin to provide emergency services while awaiting the arrival of the EMTs.

Sworn police officers performing private details means more cops on the street:

  • Police officers perform private details in the communities they police, providing extra protection to the people of the community in the event of a crime
  • Officers routinely assist motorists while performing private details
  • Officers routinely respond to emergency calls while performing paid details, frequently being able to respond faster than officers who are providing services elsewhere
  • Officers provide security to the construction and utility workers doing their jobs in high crime areas

POLICE DETAILS ARE COST EFFECTIVE:

The use of civilians to direct traffic at construction sites is unlikely to lead to meaningful costs savings:

Contractors will be required to pay civilians state prevailing wages to take the place of sworn police officers. The prevailing wage for such “flagmen” is currently (figures provided by Massachusetts Department of Labor):

  • Metro Boston $37.45 per hour
  • Central Mass $34.05
  • Springfield $30.72
  • Berkshires $29.97

In addition, contractors will need to pay payroll taxes and provide health insurance to civilians hired to replace sworn police officers. When you add it up, it doesn’t make sense.

Appeals Court Rules Employer Immune From Tort Liability For Workplace Injury

“Employee misclassification” has long been a problem that costs workers and the government billions of dollars every year. Employers are notorious for trying to label employees “independent contractors” in order to avoid paying payroll taxes and worker benefits. “Employee Misclassification” is especially common when workers have been injured, harmed, or otherwise mistreated at work. In circumstances where employees organize to form unions, are victims of illegal discrimination, file claims for unpaid wages or overtime, or are terminated without just cause, it is a common litigation dodge of employers to argue that they are not, in fact, employers. The recent Massachusetts Appeals Court case of Fleming v. Shaheen Brothers, 07-P-255 (Feb. 21, 2008) http://socialaw.org/slip.htm?cid=17900&sid=119a provides a unique instance when an employer has a financial incentive to prove that it is the boss to an employee injured on the clock.

In general, Massachusetts workers compensation law provides immunity to employers from personal injury claims by employees injured on the job. As the tradeoff for requiring employers to contribute to workers compensation insurance to make lost compensation and health benefits available, the law prohibits injured workers from bringing personal injury claims, which could potentially provide much large awards. (In certain circumstances, employees may file personal injury claims against third parties that caused the injuries, including manufacturers, and sometimes against fellow employees).

In Shaheen Brothers, an employee was injured while operating a forklift. The employee and his wife sued the employer and the forklift manufacturer. Shaheen Brothers hired, supervised and directed the employees. But, as is not uncommon in the construction industry, Shaheen Brothers outsourced its administrative and payroll functions to a different company, NBS. It was NBS, not Shaheen Brothers, that paid employees, withheld taxes and contributed to unemployment and workers compensation funds. The injured employee argued that NBS, not Shaheen Brothers, was his employer and Shaheen Brothers therefore was not immune from liability for personal injury claims. The Appeals Court disagreed. “NBS cannot be considered a general employer if it did not exercise any control over Fleming’s work duties; performing payroll functions does not amount to a working relationship.”

In concluding that an employer-employee relationship existed between the injured employee and Shaheen Brothers, the Appeals Court relied on the golden rule of “if it walks like a duck, it’s a duck” rather than technical niceties. In other words, if the company hires you, assigns you work, supervisors your work, and has the power to discipline you or change your wages, then it is your employer for purposes of workers compensation, regardless of who is listed on your paystub.

Legislature Affirms Intent To Strengthen Wage And Hour Law

Contact The Governor To Tell Him To Stand With Workers On S. 1029

As we noted on Wednesday, earlier this week Governor Patrick refused to sign legislation designed to strengthen penalties imposed on employers that violate state wage and hour laws. Instead, he sent the bill back to the legislature with a demand that it be watered down. I’m very happy to report that both houses of the Legislature have rejected the Governor’s amendment. On Tuesday, the Senate rejected the amendment, and yesterday the House concurred. The legislature will soon formally re-enact the bill mandating triple damages for violations of state wage and hour laws. Once that happens, it goes back to the Governor.

Once the bill is returned to the Governor, he has three choices – he can veto it, he can sign it, or he can do nothing, which will cause it to become law. Let the Governor know that you want him to join with the legislature and support workers rights by signing S. 1029. You can call the Governor’s office at 617-725-4005 or 888-870-7770 (in state). Or you can send him an e-mail using the form on his webpage, http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=gov3utilities&sid=Agov3&U=Agov3_contact_us.

While you’re at it, consider dropping your Senator and Representative a note to let them know that you appreciate their refusal to bend to the Governor’s attempt to weaken workers’ rights. You can get contact information for your representatives by filling in your address here, http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/myelectioninfo.php.

Gov. Patrick Refuses to Sign Pro Worker Legislation

In a major concession to employers, on February 25 Governor Patrick, like Mitt Romney before him, refused to sign legislation designed to strengthen penalties imposed on employers that violate state wage and hour laws, instead sending it back to the legislature with a demand that they water down the law. At issue was S. 1059, which would have reinstated automatic treble damages for employees who prevail in wage and hour lawsuits against their employers. Patrick balked at signing the law, instructing lawmakers to fashion a bill based on the weaker Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

In 1993, the Legislature significantly strengthened Massachusetts wage and hour laws, giving enforcement power to the Attorney General and giving employees the right to sue directly. Under the 1993 law, employees who prevailed in their suits were entitled to recover their attorney’s fees, and also to recover triple damages for the violations. For years, courts routinely upheld triple damages in such cases. Unfortunately, in 2005, the Supreme Judicial Court, in the case Weidman v. The Bradford Group, Inc., 444 Mass. 698 (2005), ruled that judges had the discretion to not award triple damages. The General Court, in response to Weidman, passed bills that clearly reiterated the legislature’s intent that triple damages be mandatory, and not subject to a judge’s discretion. In the last session, then Governor Romney vetoed the bill. Senate Democrats, seeking to restore worker protections, did not anticipate the same treatment from a Democrat Governor. But that’s what they got. The governor refused to sign the bill, instead calling for the General Court to go easy on employers who violate the law “in good faith, on the advice of counsel and guidance from the governmental authorities.” The federal law, which is weaker than state law in many areas, allows employers to avoid paying extra damages based on a “good faith” defense.

Unfortunately, this action by the governor is not entirely surprising. While Gov. Patrick campaigned as a friend to workers, he spent much of his legal career making millions representing management, including management at the aggressively anti-union Coca-Cola, and his wife is a management-side lawyer at one of the corporate law firms in Boston. Patrick’s action is particularly galling in that he calls on the state to mimic weaker federal law. Of course, Massachusetts prides itself on providing greater protection for workers than federal law requires. For example, Massachusetts protects workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, federal law does not. Indeed, Massachusetts just raised the minimum wage to $8.00 per hour, the second highest in the nation (the minimum wage in Washington State is $8.07), while the federal minimum wage remains at $5.85. So the governor is asking the General Court to take a step backwards.

The Governor’s plea for poor employers who have to pay their employees damages rings particularly hallow. We’re talking about a group of employers who have been found to have unlawfully not paid their workers! Patrick calls triple damages “unfairly punitive” to employers, but what about the workers who aren’t paid in the first place? Again, prevailing workers were routinely awarded treble damages prior to 2005. Did paying for their sins cause our workforce to crumble? No, in fact, the “triple damages era” corresponded with the economic boom of the 1990s. The bottom line is that this legislation was passed to reinstate what the General Court intended all along – that employers be punished when they fail to pay their employees in accordance with the law. Governor Patrick’s refusal to sign it stifles this worthy goal.

Legislature Amends Health Insurance Law

On July 16, 2007, the Massachusetts legislature amended the law to enable cities and towns to more easily join the Group Insurance Commission for the provision of health insurance to municipal employees.  The Group Insurance Commission (GIC) is the entity that provides health insurance for state employees.  The legislation specifically amends Section 19 of Chapter 32B, providing for coalition bargaining for health insurance, was drafted by a bipartisan group of labor and management representatives.

Read a summary of the bill

Mass Supreme Judicial Court agrees to review decision allowing Police Chief to order polygraph of Employee

Recently, in Furtado v. Town of Plymouth, 69 Mass.App.Ct. 319 (June 11, 2007), the Massachusetts Appeal court ruled that a police officer can be forced to submit to a lie detector examination under threat of discipline in most circumstances. As noted in our report of the case on June 28, Sandulli Grace attorneys, on behalf of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, conferred with the officer’s attorneys and filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the Supreme Judicial Court, urging that the Court accept review of the case and overturn this troubling decision.

On September 11, 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court granted the request to review the case, and it will now be heard by the full Court. We will, of course, continue to work with Officer Furtado’s attorneys, and will be filing a full Amicus Brief addressing all issues in the case. It is our hope that the SJC will overturn the Appeals Court decision, and affirm the legislature’s intent to prohibit employers from even trying to force their employees to undergo these junk science tests. As always, we’ll keep you posted.

New Appointment to Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission

The Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission appointed a new Chairman effective Monday, August 27, 2007.  Michael A. Byrnes, who worked for the past six years as a business agent for the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, Local 3, SEIU, AFL-CIO, has been appointed to a five-year term at the LRC. Former Chairman John Jesensky is now a commissioner and will serve out his term until 2010. Commissioner Paul O’Neill’s term ends next summer.

Before becoming a union business agent, Mr. Byrnes worked for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections and then the MBTA as a management representative. At the start of his legal career, he worked as an associate at the management-side law firm of Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane. He was admitted to the bar in 1996, after earning his B.A. from Harvard University and his J.D. from Northeastern University Law School.