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Most families experiencing poverty are working, and yet far too many families still find it difficult to make ends meet. MLRI’s Employment Law Unit focuses on advancing reforms to ensure that employment offers a pathway out of poverty. Through litigation, policy advocacy and technical assistance and training to legal and social service advocates, we work to ensure wages keep pace with living costs, job supports are available, discrimination in employment is not accepted, workplaces are safe, and, if work is not available, the Unemployment Insurance program provides a reliable safety net.  Some of MLRI's current EmploymentLaw initiatives include:

Monitoring of the State's New UI Online System:

MLRI has taken an active role in monitoring the state’s new UI Online system for handling unemployment insurance claims, which has suffered from numerous and complex problems. We provided testimony before the Senate Committee on Post-Audit and Oversight concerning the difficulties our legal services clients have had in using the new system, and recently the Committee released a report critical of UI the state’s handling of information technology projects, including UI Online, and recommending changes in how the state procures such technology. 

Advocacy on Minimum Wage and Unemployment Insurance Legislation:

The State Legislature intends to pass legislation this session to increase the minimum wage and to make changes to the Unemployment Insurance laws. MLRI is working with our partners on both these issues.  On the minimum wage, we are advocating for a $3 dollar per hour increase in the minimum wage over three years and automatic increases afterwards to ensure the minimum wage keeps up with inflation.  On Unemployment Insurance, we are advocating that changes to the Unemployment Insurance system do not include any cuts to UI benefits or eligibility requirements.  

Oversight of For-Profit Vocational Schools:

For-profit vocational schools take credit for providing access to higher education to groups who historically have been denied access to its benefits, including the many minority and low-income individuals we see in legal services practice.  Our clients’ experience with for-profit schools, unfortunately, is that they fail to deliver on the expectations that their advertising and recruitment practices create. They leave many students with significant debt but without the diploma or credential to enable them to repay that debt or achieve economic security. MLRI has been an advocate for increased state oversight of these schools in the Legislature and the Attorney General’s office, and as a result of legislation passed in 2012 and regulations promulgated in 2014, prospective students have the opportunity to be much better informed about their vocational choices.

Helping the Long-Term Unemployed:

One result of the Great Recession is that many people who lost work during that extended period have not yet been able to secure employment: more than 50,000 people in Massachusetts have been unemployed for five years or more. MLRI is engaged in two legislative campaigns to combat this problem:

The first campaign would prohibit employers and employment agencies from making current employment a condition in applying for new employment.  New York City recently enacted a law to prohibit employers from considering for job opening only persons who are currently employed, a practice that has the obvious effect of discriminating against those who are out of work.

The second campaign would prohibit employers from requesting credit checks as part of job applications.  A credit check, which examines mortgage, student loan and credit card delinquency, most often reflects the misfortune that these potential employees have suffered during the Great Recession and is in no way suitable as a predictor of their reliability as employees.