Archive for Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Employees fight to get wages owed them

July 5, 2011


Wage theft help

• The Lawrence Worker Justice Coalition holds a walk-in clinic from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the fourth Monday of every month at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt. For assistance during other times, call 727-1237.

• Employees and employers can receive assistance and information about labor laws by calling the Department of Labor local help line at 913-551-5721.

Lawrence resident Curtis Dalyrmple worked a lot of overtime hours during the summer of 2009 for a local construction contractor.

The extra hours in the hot Kansas sun didn’t bother Dalyrmple, who’s spent decades working at a variety of manual labor jobs. It’s just that he’d like to be paid the time-and-a-half hourly rate he’s legally entitled to.

His boss didn’t see it that way, refusing for months to pay anything but the regular wage. Dalyrmple asked his boss but didn’t push the issue, concerned that if he did he’d be fired.

“I felt robbed,” said Dalyrmple, who was eventually fired by the contractor. All told, Dalyrmple estimated his former employer owed him $1,300.

Laura Canelos, coordinator of the Lawrence Worker Justice Coalition, said the type of “wage theft” Dalyrmple experienced is more common in Lawrence than people think.

Canelos organizes a monthly clinic, during which workers in the area stop in for help getting unpaid wages. Canelos sees a variety of situations, but often it’s cases involving unpaid overtime or employees who aren’t paid minimum wage.

“Every little thing you can do,” said Canelos, explaining the many, sometimes creative, ways that employers skirt federal and state labor laws.

Exactly how often wage theft occurs in Lawrence isn’t known. The Journal-World filed an open records request with the U.S. Department of Labor for formal complaints made against Lawrence businesses. But the department doesn’t sort complaints by city, and fulfilling the Journal-World’s request would have cost at least several thousand dollars, the labor department said.

In the year Canelos has been operating the clinic, she’s handled about 30 cases. Often, an informal inquiry by Canelos is enough to get an employer to pay up. If not, Canelos has the option of helping file a formal complaint with the labor department.

Adam Huggins, an investigator with the department’s Kansas City district office, said his office sees a wide variety of wage theft cases.

But education is the key, he said, to ensuring that workers are paid what they deserve. For instance, undocumented workers are a population that’s especially vulnerable to wage theft, as they may not be familiar with laws or they fear being deported if they complain. But Huggins said his department doesn’t check documentation status, and department workers’ only concern is getting employers to abide federal labor laws. Huggins speaks across the region to employers and employees, trying to spread the word about the labor laws and encourage best practices.

Both Huggins and Canelos advise workers to keep as much documentation as possible, and especially recommend keeping a detailed log of work hours.

For Dalyrmple, who was helped by the Worker Justice Coalition, it was the threat of a labor department complaint that got his former boss earlier this year to pay the $1,300. Once he started working with the coalition, it took several months for his ex-boss to comply. The money helped, but, more importantly, Dalyrmple said: “It’s the principle of it. You’re due that money.”


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

Oh, give me a break. We all know that employers are hard-working saintly heroes and all workers are lazy, devious slackers. This guy should just be happy he had a job, and the government should just stay out of it, because gawd and/or the marketplace decides who can afford to survive, and those who can't.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 11 months ago

"It was the threat of a Labor Dept. complaint that got his former boss earlier this year to pay the $1300." So was the $1300 paid because it was indeed owed to the worker or was it paid because the employer found it more convenient to pay the money than deal with the complaint, valid or not?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

If the employee had no legitimate claim, I doubt that the employer would have paid it.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 11 months ago

I'm not sure that's correct. The prospect of a long complicated legal proceeding involving the Dept. of Labor, time away from work, legal fees, etc. not to mention differing interpretations of the law may have prompted the employer to just pay the money. It may have been the path of least resistance. Or maybe the employee might have had a legitimate claim.
I do find it curios that the article makes no mention of any attempt to contact the employer. Are we to assume that his side of the story is not be told here.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

More likely, the employer knew that any close examination by the Labor Dept would have found that this is a regular practice for this employer, and paying off the squeaky wheel forestalled any further examination, which might have meant payouts to lots of employees similarly screwed.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 11 months ago

You might be right. But without hearing the other side of the story, I'm just not sure. The "threat" of a government inquiry, with the time lost from work, is equally plausible.
If the employer had been contacted for this story, even if he refused to comment, we could make some inferences from that refusal. But not even attempting to make contact, telling just one side of the story, does a disservice to the truth.

tomatogrower 6 years, 11 months ago

And how many of this employer's workers didn't make a complaint? How many didn't know they had a right to overtime They saved a lot of money, so they had plenty to pay the one guy who had some smarts. I guess they will make sure they only hire clueless people from now on.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 11 months ago

You ask how many other workers didn't file a complaint? I don't know. And from the article, neither do you. That's the problem with this article. It leaves way too many questions unanswered. That, and the fact that it tells only one side of the story. Unless the reader has their mind made up already at which point facts are unnecessary.

Clovis Sangrail 6 years, 11 months ago

He should have filed the complaint with the Labor department. There are provisions in the FLSA act that allow double damages if the violation was willful. And if the Labor department had gotten involved, they would have pulled pay records back several years, and everyone who had been cheated out of overtime would have been made right, not just this one guy.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 11 months ago

There is a statute of limitations of two years. I know this because I filed a complaint with the Federal Department of Labor. It had been six months before I filed the complaint and it took well over a year before the complaint was investigated. When I was finally contacted by an investigator I almost fell off my chair because, frankly, I thought DOL had just ignored the complaint. By the time the investigator did his part of the investigation it wasn't even worth pursuing. I don't think I would have gotten more than 8 hours of wages out of it. Had it been investigated at the time it was filed it would have involved a heck of a lot more than that. When I consulted a legal expert I was told that DOL was well within the law to do this and were frequently known to put off investigations until the statute of limitations expired.

Jan Rolls 6 years, 11 months ago

The kansas department of labor has a wage and hour division where wage complaints can be filed. Maybe brownlee ought to advertising help for citizens rather than trying to priviatize the division.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 11 months ago

The reason I filed my complaint with the FDOL is because I filed with the state DOL first and they frankly did nothing other than tell my ex-employer that I filed for back wages. My ex-employer said they didn't owe it to me and the state left it at that. It took six months just to accomplish that much.

bill_welch 6 years, 11 months ago

I had an overall decent experience with the Dept of Labor when I filed against Nancy at the Tenth Street Vegetarian Bistro here in Lawrence.. She had closed the business by the time the complaint was being handled and a full investigation was not launched. Unfortunately, there was nothing else that could be done a that point in time.

Ironically, shortly after the claim was dismissed, she reopened the establishment.

And yes-- document EVERYTHING, always. It's the best advice there is.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.