Hearings to focus on ‘misclassified’ workers

Posted Oct. 22, 2009, at 10:57 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The state labor commissioner urged Maine workers who have been misclassified as “independent contractors” to tell their stories at a series of public hearings next month.

“The reason that it’s important to have people show up is because we have been fighting an uphill battle in our state to get people to take this issue seriously,” Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said Thursday during the Maine AFL-CIO’s 27th biennial convention. The convention began Thursday and winds up today at the Ramada Inn.

“The only way we’re going to change that is by getting real people’s stories out there,” Fortman said during Thursday’s banquet.

According to information posted on the Maine AFL-CIO’s Web site, misclassifying workers as independent contractors instead of wage employees “sidesteps critical wage and hour laws, cheating workers and the state. This is a huge problem in Maine.”

The organization said that from 1999 to 2002, at least one in seven, or 14 percent, annually of the state’s construction employers are estimated to have misclassified workers as independent contractors. The AFL-CIO pegs the actual number of affected workers as at least 3,213 over that period.

The problem, the AFL-CIO says, is costing the state “millions of dollars in tax revenues annually.”

The hearings are being conducted by the Governor’s Task Force on Employee Misclassification.

The task force was created in January through an executive order issued by Gov. John Baldacci, who charged the panel with examining the problem of employee misclassification, coordinating and beefing up enforcement mechanisms, and increasing awareness of the illegality of and harms inflicted by misclassification.

The order directs the task force to work with affected groups to improve ways of identifying and reporting potential violations, and to make recommendations for regulatory or statutory changes that would strengthen enforcement efforts.

“So one of the things I’m asking for is your help,” Fortman said. “It really is an opportunity to hear the real-life impact of misclassifying workers.

The hearings, which all start at 5 p.m., are set for:

ä Monday, Nov. 9, Bangor Career Center.

ä Monday, Nov. 16, Lewiston Career Center.

ä Thursday, Nov. 19, Portland Career Center.

According to the state Department of Labor, the problem harms misclassified workers because they are not covered by the state and federal laws designed to protect them, such as workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, minimum wage and overtime, workplace discrimination, family and medical leave, and occupa-tional safety and health.

The Labor Department also notes that these workers lack access to employer-provided health insurance, retirement plans, vacation and sick leave, and other benefits offered in the workplace.

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