CommunityPam's House Blend

Thank heaven for the ethics of the Bush Economy. Employers, clearly in violation of labor laws, think it’s ok to think it’s ok to work people like dogs off the clock for profit. Despite extremely black-and-white laws in this regard, skirting them is all about getting something for nothing — but workers aren’t taking it anymore. This is a long article, and you should go read the whole thing. It’s enraging. (NYT):

Soon after Trudy LeBlue began working at the new SmartStyle hair salon outside New Orleans, her salon manager began worrying that business was too slow and profits were too weak.

To keep costs down, Ms. LeBlue said, the manager often ordered her and the two other stylists to engage in a practice, long hidden, that appears to have spread to many companies: working off the clock.

Many weeks, Ms. LeBlue spent 40 hours in the salon, but was ordered to clock out for 20 of them while waiting for customers to show up, she said. With the salon’s computer tracking her official hours, she was told to clean up and stock merchandise during the unpaid stretches.

“If you weren’t doing hair or a perm, they’d tell you to get off the clock, but you still had to stay in the salon,” she said.

What angered her most was her paltry paycheck, which she said often came to just $200 for two weeks, even after 80 hours at work. For Ms. LeBlue, that worked out to $2.50 an hour, less than half of the $5.15-an-hour federal minimum wage and her official rate, $5.35 an hour.

Workers at hair salons, supermarkets, restaurants, discount stores, call centers, car washes and other businesses who have murmured only to one another about off-the-clock work are now speaking up and documenting the illegal practice.

Trudy Leblue (L) was f*cked over for hundreds of hours she wasn’t paid for; Wilfredo Brewster put in 70 hours or more a week, but was told to clock 40 at slave-master A&P; in Greenburgh, N.Y. Photos: Cheryl Gerber, NYT/Susan Stava, NYT

“It is prevalent,” said Alfred Robinson, director of the wage and hour division of the Labor Department. “It is one of the more common violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Though there have been no formal studies of the practice or of its overall cost to employees, the workers interviewed said off-the-clock work took place at a variety of companies: A&P;, J. P. Morgan Chase, Pep Boys, Ryan’s Family Steakhouses, TGF Precision HairCutters and Ms. LeBlue’s company, SmartStyle, which is part of the Regis Corporation, the nation’s largest chain of hairstylists. SmartStyle and many of the other companies say they bar off-the-clock work, and they are fighting the lawsuits.

Over the last year, the Labor Department has brought enforcement actions against several companies that required off-the-clock work, seeking back pay and demanding compliance. The agency has grown more aggressive after plaintiffs’ lawyers filed scores of off-the-clock lawsuits, some resulting in multimillion-dollar settlements with prominent companies, including Radio Shack and Starbucks.

Many people who study business practices say off-the-clock work has become more prevalent because middle managers face greater pressure to lower labor costs and because the managers’ bonuses may even be tied to cutting those costs. Off-the-clock work is most often found, they say, at workplaces that employ many immigrants, like farms and poultry-processing plants, but the phenomenon has spread, especially among low-wage companies in the service sector.

…”There’s more of this stuff going on than 10 and 20 and especially 30 and 40 years ago,” said David Lewin, a human resources professor at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. “There are a lot of incentives to engage in these kinds of practices, because they result in higher profits for the company and they can lead to higher bonuses for local managers.”

…Adam T. Klein, a lawyer who has brought off-the-clock lawsuits against A&P; and J. P. Morgan Chase, said many companies pushed for such unpaid work because it is an easy way to bolster profits.

“Corporate profits are derived from efficiency, and every extra minute off the clock they can squeeze out of a worker generates profits to the bottom line,” he said. “Some companies have even institutionalized the notion that preshift and postshift work doesn’t have to be compensated.”

Eileen Appelbaum, director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University and an editor of “Low-Wage America,” a book of essays about the workplace, said more people work off the clock because job insecurity makes them increasingly eager to please management.

“One big reason for off-the-clock work is people are really worried about their jobs,” she said.

People…take note of the above companies, especially if you spend your money there.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding