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 low-income 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 the authors of the previous edition, 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 and Allan Rodgers, formerly of MLRI, and attorneys Peter Benjamin, Andrew Kisselof, Vida Berkowitz, Shoshana Erlich, Talia Gee and current and former staff of the GBLS Employment Law Unit—Cyndi Mark, Audrey Richardson, Leonor Suarez, and Jennifer Tschirch. We also wish to acknowledge the helpful discussions of UI practice made by the members of the Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association.
The current guide has been ably prepared by Jason Salgado and Hannah Tanabe of GBLS, with the assistance of Northeastern School of Law student Allison Mastrangelo, Harvard Clinical students Travis Lavenski and Nicole Rubin, and Boston University School of Law student Thomas Fischer. The authors also appreciate contributions made by Peter Benjamin, formerly the Litigation Director, at 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 Amy Dion 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 Patricia Jehlen and Representative Josh Cutler and their wonderful staff, for their extraordinary efforts to protect workers during this extraordinary pandemic. The past two years would have been unthinkable for us and for our clients without the constituent services provided by the members of the General Court.
This 2022 Edition of the Guide is likely to be the last one to which the indefatigable Monica Halas has contributed. We want to recognize her decades of advocacy and accomplishments on behalf of the low-income workers in Massachusetts.
In her celebrated career, Monica was regularly called on to teach other advocates about the unemployment insurance system and often began those trainings by paying tribute to Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor and the person who devised the UI program (among her many achievements).
FDR had hired Perkins when he was the Governor of New York and brought her with him to Washington when he was elected President. Her mandate was to lessen the economic pain of the Great Depression, which had put nearly a quarter of the nation's labor force out of work. She came armed with lots of plans, the most imperative of which was to establish an unemployment insurance system to "ease the burden," as she expressed it to the President, on unemployed workers and on the communities where they lived. In short order, the system was up and running in many states, including Massachusetts, which codified Perkins' goal in statue: this law "shall be construed liberally in aid of its purpose, which purpose is to lighten the burden which now falls on the unemployed worker..."
It was so like Monica, an extraordinarily generous colleague, to be sure to acknowledge the contributions of others. And her invocation of this founder of UI is appropriate in another way. Although, out of modesty, Monica might be inclined to dismiss the thought, she's been the Frances Perkins of Massachusetts, finding a thousand ways to lighten the burden on unemployed workers. Our state's UI program is one of the best in the nation, thanks in large part to the campaigns that Monica had been a part of.
Frances Perkins made the unemployment insurance program her first priority, but it was assuredly not the only one, and, as she told the President, it needed to be followed promptly by minimum wage and worker safety legislation. Monica's been the same, lending her expert guidance to campaigns supporting those initiatives as well as fights for domestic workers, temporary workers, immigrant workers, and others who might otherwise be left behind.
She's now enjoying her well-deserved retirement. Her grateful legal services colleagues are wishing her all the best.
Previous edition of this Guide have been dedicated in memoriam:
We have paid tribute to two legislative champions of workers' rights -- U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy and State Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly, both of whom have helped to make Massachusetts a better place for working families and whose compassion for the plight of poor people has made Massachusetts a better place for us all.
We have also honored our fellow legal services colleague and dear friend T. Richard “Rick” McIntosh of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, who 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, and who elevated us all with his boundless compassion, good humor, and common sense.
In this edition, we honor Greater Boston Legal Services attorney and Guide co-author Brian Flynn, who left us in November, 2020. Appropriately regarded by his GBLS colleagues as the "mayor" of that organization, Brian was a model of generosity, wisdom, determination and optimism for us all. His advocacy could take the form of a class action to correct an injustice that hundreds of UI claimants shared in common, or an individual case in which his diligence exposed a small but critical factual error overlooked by the decision making agency. He was particularly attentive to the difficulties presented to those of his clients whos primary language was not English, which the Appeals court memorably observed in a case in which his Nigerian client prevailed, at last: "Decisional law reflects the caution that we think is appropriate to use when making decisions that depend on the meaning and intent of language choices" of non-native English speakers. We miss Brian every day, but his example continues to inspire us.
© 2022 by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc.
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