Mass. voters support responsible development practices, wage theft prevention, poll shows
By Benjamin Kail
Most Massachusetts voters support responsible development practices such as prioritizing living wages and minimizing projects’ environmental impacts, a new poll shows. According to a MassINC Polling Group survey of more than 850 voters, at least 80% showed strong or moderate support for responsible development practices, which include real estate developers providing at least living wages and benefits, as well as apprenticeship and training programs, while making engagement with local communities a priority. Voters also strongly support making wage theft a crime, the poll showed.
Responsible development Seventy-eight percent would support requiring projects that receive public funding to implement such practices, while 63% showed support for state laws that encourage Massachusetts developers and other businesses to rely on union workers for public projects. "We’re happy to see those numbers," said Joe Byrne, who chairs the Responsible Development Coalition, for whom the poll was conducted. "The [responsible development] policies are popular and it's a smart way to protect our investments made with the tax dollars and to protect workers as well."
Byrne cited a pledge created by the coalition last year as the Boston mayoral race heated up that called on developers to get on board with providing good-paying jobs, inclusivity, equal pay, affordable housing and environmentally-sustainable building projects. "I think it's hard for the public to not support those things," he told the Business Journal Monday. "We are always out there pushing. There are some developers always doing the right thing, there are some who need to be persuaded. Our job is to always push them in the right direction."
The poll suggested voters are more than twice as likely to view real estate developers negatively. Forty-two percent said they had an unfavorable view of developers, compared to 18% who said they view developers favorably. A majority (55%) said the state was headed in the right direction. But a majority also called on state leaders to prioritize addressing Massachusetts’ inflation and high cost of living, including housing and food.
Wage theft More than two-thirds of respondents said they’d back a proposed-but-languishing state law that would make wage theft a crime, the poll suggested. Currently, when an employer fails to pay wages or provide benefits as required by law or contract, workers can sue, but 70% support potentially placing employers on the hook for not only financial damages but for a felony.
Sixty-six percent said they’d support proposals ensuring contractors were held responsible if one of their subcontractors fails to pay or provide benefits as required.
But proponents of such measures need to get the word out, the poll suggested.
Nearly half of the respondents were “not at all familiar” with the concept of wage theft, which has been a key issue in the race for attorney general. Seventy-one percent of voters said they’d read or heard very little or nothing at all about wage theft prior to the poll.
Nearly $2 million in penalties and restitution have been assessed against 115 employers in construction, Healey’s office announced last September. In fiscal year 2021, Healey’s office’s Fair Labor Division fined employers more than $8.1 million for wage theft and other labor law violations.
The penalties helped more than 10,000 Massachusetts employees receive their proper pay or benefits.
Chris Keohan of the Responsible Development Coalition told the Business Journal that the general public often assumes prosecutors can charge employers for wage theft. "We need to open pathways to be able to prosecute these crimes more aggressively," he said. "Average workers living paycheck-to-paycheck — they don't have the time and money to file a lawsuit. They need more tools in the toolbox to aggressively pursue these types of crimes and hammer home [that] it's unacceptable in Massachusetts or anywhere."
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