Wage and Hour Division is failing workers
Congressional auditors concluded this month that the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor had not fulfilled its legal duties to workers during the Bush years. The nonpartison Governmental Accountability Office concluded that the Division had mishandled 9 of 10 claims brought by a team of undercover investigators. The examples it cited were revolting proof of lack of accountability to any reasonable person.
The Wage and Hour Division failed to investigate a complaint of under-age workers operating dangerous machinery in a meat-packing plant in Modesto, California. When an undercover agent posing as a dishwasher called four times to complain about 19 weeks of unpaid overtime, the Miami office did not return his calls for four months; when it did call him, he was told it would be 8 to 10 months before his claim was investigated.
Low-paid wage earners were routinely told to file lawsuits rather than seeking governmental enforcement. This remedy is expensive, difficult and impractical for workers and clogs the court system with small, relatively routine matters (assuming the worker does not simply give up). Five of ten labor complaints filed by investigators were not recorded in the Division's data base, and 3 were never investigated. In two cases, the Division falsely recorded that employees had been compensated with back wages.
Other cases investigated by the GAO were equally reprehensible. When a group of restaurant workers complained that their employer was stealing their tips and making them work "off the clock", the Division did not investigate for 22 months. Ultimately, the investigators concluded that the employees were owed a total of $230,000 dollars, but the division closed the case by allowing the restaurant to pay the overtime, only.
A Montana boarding school's employees were owed $200,000.00 in overtime according to a Division investigation, but the Division dropped the claim after payment of only $1,000.00, as the statute of limitations approached. These examples were a few of many identified in an investigation that concluded that low-paid workers are regularly suffering illegal wage theft at the hands of unscrupulous employers. The study concluded that almost twenty percent of the major claims brought to the Division's attention were mishandled, in part as a result of unreasonable delays.