Posted by Christina Jedra April 9, 2013 04:51 PM
Somerville City Hall Tuesday afternoon to deliver 191 signed petitions - almost three times the required amount - requesting a public hearing with the Board of Alderman to address local wage theft. A group of about 10 local activists visited
Representatives from Centro Presente, Somerville Community Corporation, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Democratic City Committee, and the School Committee made an appearance as well as Ward 5 Alderman candidate Mark Niedergang.
Mayor Joseph Curtatone met with the group, answered questions, and announced plans to pursue the issue further. He said he will submit an ordinance for this Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Aldermen.
“What I said to the advocates is we will be filing legislation along with the Board of Aldermen and beginning a very important discussion of ascertaining that people who invest and do business in Somerville, invest not only in their business but their community as well as their workers,” the mayor said. “I do not promote an inequitable atmosphere where people have to work. We want this city to be a great place to live, work, and play and raise a family.”
According to City Clerk John Long, the advocates will likely expect notification of a public hearing in a matter of weeks after the issue is reviewed by the aldermen and referred to the Committee on Legislative Matters.
Organizer Rand Wilson said the petitions came after a group of workers filed a suit last year for $183,500 against their former employer, One World Cuisine restaurants. The petition cites “unpaid wages, minimum wage, and overtime violations” as reasons for the lawsuit. About 10 percent of this claim pertains to work at Davis Square’s Diva Indian Bistro, where some of Tuesday’s gatherers said they have picketed.
“In the course of the campaign, we realized that wage theft is a much bigger problem in Somerville than most people realize,” said Wilson. “No matter who you are, if you show up for work, you should get paid fairly and honestly.”
Patrick McDermott, a workers’ rights organizer from Centro Presente, a Latin American immigrant advocacy group involved in the lawsuit, said that he wants employers to be held accountable for treating their workers unfairly.
“We’d like to see the Board of Aldermen pass something that can take business licenses away from companies that have been found guilty of wage theft,” he said.
McDermott said that some of the people he works with, who may be undocumented workers, don’t always know what to do when their employers withhold payment and sometimes don’t realize it’s happening at all.
“They come to me when they’ve been fired and then in talking to them, I found out that they weren’t getting paid minimum wage, that they weren’t paid overtime,” he said. “Like anyone else, they’ve got bills to pay, and they work, and they expect to get paid, and when that doesn’t happen, that’s a big problem.”
Petitioner and Somerville resident Harriotte Hurie Ranvig said she has picketed at Diva about 10 times in the past year, but wants to take her actions to another level.
“The more locally we can address things, usually the faster things will get worked out,” she said. "Let’s try it out through the aldermen. Let’s get a hearing, see what we can do.”
Christina Jedra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.