Writing Wrongs

November 18, 2014

Adaeze Nduaguba of Dorchester still remembers the devastation and anger that she and 40 other teen writers of the e-magazine Enterteenment experienced when their employer cheated them out of thousands of dollars in compensation. Years later, studying at Dartmouth College, she finds it almost ironic that a group of youth peer leaders just a few blocks from her childhood home would be championing her cause.

“I devoted hours every week to… the [Enterteenment] website,” said Nduaguba. “Despite all my work and efforts, I was manipulated and lost out on the $3,700 scholarship money that I was supposed to receive under my contract.”

When MassCOSH’s Teens Lead @ Work (TL@W) was contacted by a former Enterteenment writer, the peer leaders knew they had to take action. Through national conference calls, TL@W peer leaders helped the young workers – ranging in age from 17 to 25, and residing all over the country from Idaho to Virginia to Massachusetts – plan a strategy to bring the employer to the table and provide just compensation. They coordinated wage complaints to the Attorney General’s (AG) office, and had AG staff join on the call to keep the young workers updated. They sent the employer a demand letter, and obtained prominent media coverage in the Dorchester News, the Boston Globe and Teens in Print.

Having intimately witnessed the impact of wage theft during their Enterteenment effort, MassCOSH’s 23 summer peer leaders were inspired to play an active role with the Greater Boston Labor Council Future’s Committee, pressing for local policies that would deter employers from stealing wages. They are helping to develop and pass a Boston wage ordinance that would prevent corporate thieves from obtaining city licenses.

“It was shocking to find out wage theft like this was happening in Boston,” added TL@W peer leader Justin Caballero. “But we can make change. We can get people to notice our issues.”

But their efforts didn’t stop there. Over the summer, in support of janitors whose wages were stolen by a contractor who employs them to clean a AMC Loews movie theatre in Boston, the peer leaders joined the Labor Council, Chelsea Collaborative and other community and labor groups in a protest. They led a skit across the street from the theater, acting out how a complicated subcontractor arraignment had kept the AMC workers from being paid. The teens also marched into the theater alongside dozens of labor and community allies to demand justice. As a result of the highly visible action, AMC agreed to fly a national representative to settle the workers’ claims.

“Educating our peers early on at this age is extremely important because the values that we teach and emphasize about workplace health and safety will stick with the teens forever and by the time they’re fully in the workforce they will have already learned… how to prevent certain situations in their workplace,” said Peer Leader Tiana Golding, looking back on her summer with TL@W.