Last weekend a number of you commented, emailed, and tweeted to let me know that the US Department of Labor did not want to hear your “short paycheck” claims. Apparently, the DOL divides your gross pay by your hours worked, and if the resulting rate is above minimum wage, they won’t take the claim. I disagree with that stance, but I’ll deal with that when the impasse is over.
Today is different. No matter how you do the math, almost every state employee will fall below “effective minimum wage” on this paycheck. I certainly will. If you’re one of the many involuntary volunteers, contact your local office for the US Department of Labor and file a claim. No lawyer or union can do this for you; you MUST file the claim yourself. Only the federal government has the authority to intervene.
The FLSA says that you are entitled to three things:
- Your unpaid wages
- Liquidated damages in an amount equal to your unpaid wages
- Reasonable legal costs to recover said wages
If your paycheck was supposed to be $1500 gross (pre-deduction), your claim would be for $3000. While I’ve gone more than a few rounds pro se at the DJ and state courts, federal court is beyond my realm, so I can only assume that the “reasonable legal costs” element will be taken up by the DOL as the cost of prosecution. Any lawyers in the crowd, feel free to correct me on this.
I’ve posted this information before, but here once again are the contact numbers for the US Department of Labor.
Remember: Do not contact the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. They can not help you with the FLSA. While some have suggested that the Pennsylvania Wage Payment & Collection Act may cover us, I am fairly certain that government employees are not covered under that particular Act. The Act itself is unclear on the issue, but I recall seeing precedent to this effect. Off the top of my head I can’t remember the case, but I’m willing to bet my paycheck that Pennsylvania wage law doesn’t cover us.
Some pointers for your call:
- Before calling, have the following information ready: Start & end dates of the pay period, how many hours you worked, what your hourly pay should be, and what your actual gross pay was. The easiest way to gather this information is to print your pay stub from ESS / SAP.
- Be prepared to wait. They will very likely be swamped with 44,000 calls from your fellow involuntary volunteers.
- Don’t call during work hours. If need be, request time off (follow your agency’s policy exactly) and make the call then. It’s better to call the DOL on the following Wednesday then to spend an hour on the phone during your work schedule. It’s unfair, but that’s the way it is.
- Note the name of the person who took your claim, the time and date that you called, and any relevant information provided (such as a claim number or when you should expect a response).
- As a government employee, you ARE covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. There is NO QUESTION about this. Anyone who challenges this can take it up with the US Supreme Court (see Garcia v San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528 (1985)).
- The PA Constitution does not overrule your rights under the FLSA. I have covered this time and time and time again. The issue has been beaten into the ground and left for dead.
- Remain calm and professional. We are all rightfully frustrated and angry, but the DOL is here to help us. Remember that you’re speaking to another civil servant who has probably already fielded dozens (if not hundreds) of calls so far.
Don’t expect much of a response past “we’ll get back to you, here’s your claim number”. The fact of the matter is that this is going to be a long process. Take whatever comfort you can in knowing that you did the right thing. Not just for yourself, but for your fellow involuntary volunteers. With every voice that complains, our cause gets louder and harder to dismiss. And remember that in the end, we will get paid.
Finally, don’t forget to call your legislator and governor. I’ve been plugging Project Vote Smart as a very easy-to-use, comprehensive listing of who’s who among elected officials. Only today, when you call them, try asking this question:
“I’ve just filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor over Pennsylvania’s violation of federal labor laws. When I am awarded damages, how will you explain to your constituents that they must now pay for your inability to pass a budget on time?”
Then, after they answer, ask:
“How do you think that will affect you at election time?”