About MLRI and GBLS
The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is a statewide nonprofit legal services organization whose mission is to advance economic, racial, and social justice through legal action, education, and advocacy. MLRI specializes in largescale legal initiatives and systemic reforms that address the root causes of poverty, remove barriers to opportunity and promote economic stability for lowincome individuals and families. For over 50 years, MLRI has been the backbone of the Massachusetts civil legal aid system and is considered one of the premier impact advocacy and poverty law support centers in the country.
Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) is the primary provider of basic civil legal assistance to approximately one-third of the state’s low-income individuals. Its service area includes 32 cities and towns that constitute all of Suffolk and a significant portion of Middlesex, Norfolk, and Plymouth counties. The program’s mission is to provide high-quality legal assistance in a wide range of poverty law matters including housing, elder, and family, welfare, health, disability, consumer, immigration and employment law. In addition, GBLS provides services in immigration cases on a statewide basis. GBLS’s Asian Outreach & Employment Law Unit (AOU/EU) represents clients in unemployment insurance appeals, wage-and-hour claims, and tax controversies, as well as clients who have criminal records or other barriers to gaining jobs and job-related benefits. The AOU/EU also represents individual and community-based organizations in systemic policy campaigns concerning UI, wages, and work-connected benefits such as earned sick time and paid family and medical leave and includes a new focus on individuals in the Asian community.
This Guide is the work of many advocates besides authors Monica Halas and Brian Flynn of GBLS and Margaret Monsell of MLRI. Much of the content builds on significant contributions to prior versions by Patti Prunhuber, formerly of Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts; attorneys Peter Benjamin, Andrew Kisselof, Vida Berkowitz, Shoshana Erlich, current and former staff of the GBLS Employment Law Unit—Cyndi Mark, Audrey Richardson, Leonor Suarez, Jennifer Tschirch—and Allan Rodgers, formerly of MLRI. We are grateful to Talia Gee of the Central West Justice Center for past case suggestions and to GBLS’s Brian Flynn for case suggestions and for his outstanding work on behalf of Limited English Proficient claimants. We also wish to acknowledge the helpful discussions of UI practice made by the members of the Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association.
Research for and edits of the current guide were contributed by GBLS Americorps Fellow Julia Fissore-O’Leary, Paralegal Nourhan Tomoum and Harvard Clinical student Ruofei Qu, and Boston University School of Law student Chris Hamilton. The authors also appreciate contributions made by Peter Benjamin, Litigation Director, Community Legal Aid and the analysis of the new Adjudication Handbook by Melissa Pomfred, private practitioner and Jim Rowan, Director of the Northeastern University School of Law Clinical Programs. The Massachusetts Bar Foundation provided funding for GBLS’s work on the Guide, and the staff of the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc., produced the Guide.
The Guide is informed by contributions of the members of the Employment Rights Coalition (ERC), which includes employment practitioners in both legal services and private practice and is led by Peter Benjamin at Community Legal Aid. ERC’s advocacy has encompassed administrative and legislative advocacy and litigation in both individual cases and in declaratory and class actions. These efforts have produced significant improvements in the unemployment insurance system, especially for low-wage workers, workers with children, workers with disabilities, workers without health insurance, and workers who survive domestic violence.
Moreover, ERC has benefited from partnering with numerous effective allies, including the advocates at Eastern Regional Legal Intake (ERLI) who provide intake and referral services for countless claimants; the National Employment Law Project, whose partnership has been instrumental in securing rights for unemployed workers at both the federal and state levels; and our friends in the community and in labor—the Chinese Progressive Association, which has been a driving force for the fair treatment of non-English–speaking claimants; and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, and the UAW Massachusetts CAP Council—who help to provide an effective voice at the State House for workers. This year, we also thank allies in the Legislature, especially the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, Senator Jason Lewis and then Representative (now Mayor) Paul Brodeur and their wonderful staff, as well as Senator Cindy Friedman for sponsoring legislation to improve access for unemployed workers with fluctuating work schedules to UI benefits to participate in training and Representative Ken Gordon for sponsoring his bill in the House. We also thank Senator Friedman and Representative Gordon for their work in advocating for improved regulations that expand access to extend UI benefits to participate in training.
Advocates are also directed to Your Rights on the Job, by Robert M. Schwartz, an excellent and comprehensive guide to employment laws in Massachusetts. It is available through the Labor Guild of Boston, 66 Brooks Drive, Braintree, MA 02185 or http://laborguild.com/.
This Guide is dedicated in memoriam:
To Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, an unequalled champion of the American worker. His legislative achievements include not only significant improvements to the unemployment insurance system, increases to the minimum wage, a better workforce-development system, and family leave legislation, but also a legacy of fighting to improve living standards, expand economic opportunities, and provide health care for every American. His leadership is irreplaceable, but, as he said so fittingly, “the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on.”
To T. Richard “Rick” McIntosh of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, a dear friend and colleague to members of the Employment Rights Coalition and an important contributor to earlier versions of this Guide. During the course of his 40-year career, Rick worked tirelessly to improve the lives of low-income families in Massachusetts. He advocated for thousands of families and individuals facing a wide range of legal challenges, including issues related not only to unemployment but also to health care, disability, nutritional assistance, and housing. His generosity of time and his sound judgment on issues affecting lowincome communities will be sorely missed.
To Kenneth J. Donnelly, Senator from the Fourth Middlesex District and the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, whose contributions to the state’s workplace laws, including our Unemployment Insurance statute, have made the state a better place for working families and whose compassion for the plight of poor people has made the state a better place for us all. We redouble our efforts in his memory.
© 2019 by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc.
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Permission to reprint must be obtained from both the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc.