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.”