US Dept of Labor: Round One

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.

Wilkes-Barre: 570-826-6316

Philly: 215-597-4950

Pittsburgh: 412-395-4996

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?”

27 thoughts on “US Dept of Labor: Round One”

  1. Another point you may want to bring up is the LWOP status. I spoke with someone who called last week, and she told me that USDOL told her they were looking into all time worked while in LWOP as overtime.

    Good Luck!

  2. Be careful in using LWOP status. I’ve been led to believe it is no longer being used. Check your paystub. It may not be there or, it may only be there if part of your hours paid on this paycheck were in June. If it is there, yes, harp on it. That the pay roll records for overtime pay seem to be inaccurate because it says you are on leave without pay but you are actually working!

  3. Robin,

    Do you think if you printed out the pay stub when it did reflect LWOP and now have a stub for the same time period reflecting otherwise, that it will be a record keeping violation? Just brainstorming…

  4. Also let your legislators know that when awarded damages, you plan to use it to ensure they don’t get re-elected.

  5. Jo(s)e I have recommended (and my husband is) printing out ALL pay stubs end of June and until this debacle is cleared up and the system correct relative to back pay, accrued leave time (sick and pto) and accrued service hours. You need the snapshot print prior and each one thereafter until you know it’s correct on your record. And yes, it provides necessary documentation for many purposes.

    Where I worked the company lawyers always told us as managers “If it isn’t written down (documented) it didn’t happen”. This was in regard to vendor management, contract negotiations, people management, labor issues etc. It’s no different in the government sector. Have it documented. Or it never happened.

  6. My husbands pay shows LWOP – shows his hourly rate and then out from it is blank. It doesn’t even say 0. They also payed DOC today their clothing allowance. Will they use that against him in this minimum wage issue?

    I think chiefs idea is a good one!

  7. Chief’s is a great idea! (retired Navy Chief? My DH too!) Do it on Twitter too. You’d be surprised who is on there. LOADS of reps and senators, the caucus leaders.

    As for LWOP…the state seems to have waffled on this. The other day it said only two pays. Now it no longer says that and addresses pays after July 31. I think they are making this up on the fly bc they are not sure how to support this lunacy of the Governors (or Donna Coopers?).

    As for the DOC clothing allowance…I would emphatically point out it is clothing allowance…NOT wages assuming it is spelled out that way on the pay stub.

  8. well looks like they were prepared today its already going straight to voicemail saying that it will be under investigation

  9. also it says there is no need to file an individual complaint as this is under investigation…however I want to be sure im awarded damages! I hope thats what they are refering to.

  10. My pay statement also says “Budget Related LWOP” at the bottom of the Gross pay section. It shows my new hourly rate (the raise I’m supposed to get) and the value of 60.00 hours but no Amount or Year To Date total. I will be calling later today.

  11. I don’t get to call DOL until next week. Unless DOL puts out some sort of word that they are investigating on behalf of all Pa state employees, I plan on calling until I speak with someone.

    Robin: Yepper, retired Navy Chief. 23 years.

  12. I just called the Wilkes Barre office at 10:30 am and I got a recording that says if you are a Commonwealth of PA employee we are doing an investigation into this. I did stay on the line however to give my name and number to someone as that is all the info they are taking at this time due to the large volume of people calling. She sounded a little frazzled.

  13. Here’s the gist of the recording at the US DOL offices:
    There is indeed a recording at the DOL telephone number, the gist of which is: If you are a Commonwealth Employee there is no need to file an individual complaint. The Wage and Hour Division has initiated an investigation into the Commonwealth to insure your rights are protected under FLSA Minimum Wage. All employees will be covered by this investigation/complaint.

    This is a good thing.

    Chief…Hubby retired 1st class…passed Chief’s exam…just no open billets in our Reserves area. Navy brat myself. My Dad was UDT2 Little Creek, Va.

  14. I actually got a call back from the DOL. Was basically told that they are investigating it. A judge will be involved and it could take months before you see any pay from any action they are taking. Even a small ray of hope would have been nice but I am not expecting that at this point in time.. I just pray that the budget gets passed very soon!…

  15. JJ, that IS a small ray of hope. To me, the fact that a judge is going to be involved says the Secretary is prepared to sue the Commonwealth in Federal Court and seek injunctive relief. And damages. No doubt we will see pay from the budget getting passed first. BUT…just the fact that they would investigate, be prepared to go to court applies pressure on our friends at the helm in Harrisburg. Pressure that they did not believe could or would be applied. Ed knows darned well that the Federal Act supercedes the State’s Constitution as it applies to FLSA. He simply chose to play stupid. (He does it rather well too. So well, it almost doesn’t seem like an act sometimes!) I think because he underestimated the reaction of the employees and the entrenched positions of the Senate and the House. OOPS. Bad call Gov!

  16. Remember folks, each pay day we miss is a FLSA violation. We should be swamping DOL’s phone lines every Friday!

    Robin: I was a CTRC. . . My daughter currently
    serves, CTI1.

  17. my pay this week was just over what would be considered minimum wage. Who in the hell could live on like 170/wk?

  18. just called the philly number, they told me that they are absolutely investigating! they took my name, number, how short my check was, did i work overtime, and what department do I work for. everyone needs to call and get on this list!

  19. Fed Minimum wage is $6.55 hr until the 24th it then increases to $7.25 hr. How many hours do you work a week Sandman?

  20. It is my understanding from other blog comments that Federal Court action re: damages would not be taking place until September. If the budget passes next week (and I hope it does)would the court action still take place to compensate state/commonwealth employees in damages for the time since July 1st when we haven’t gotten paid? And I am curious what impact Rendell’s wife being a Federal judge will have on any court actions? If we owed the government money, we would have to pay up with interest, so we should be able to collect as well. It makes me sick that those in the “budget talks” are still enjoying fancy lunches while we are not getting paid. Rendell is not maintaining his huge girth by eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

  21. Broke State Employee, yes – paying back wages does not absolve an employer who violated the FLSA. See United States v Klinghoffer Bros. Realty Corp (285 F.2d 487, 491 (2d Cir. 1960)). Even once the state issues our back pay, they will still be liable for the FLSA violations already committed.

  22. floor9 – Thank you so much for responding to the questions I had in my previous post…it eases my mind to know they will still be liable and this would not be “swept under the rug” once the budget does pass. I know this sounds cliche, but it’s the principle of it all.

  23. I contacted and I figure if Rendell is planning a future in national politics we should give them a heads up on what he’s like. I haven’t heard anything as yet but i would like to see others contact them as well. National bad press for the Pa politicians would be pressure on them. Mayb e then Washington would run sreaming into the night to distance themselves from any or all of these idiots.

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