Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Department of Labor Does Nothing For Minimum Wage Workers

I can't think of anything worse than a person who works for low wages not getting their last paycheck from an employer. Yes I can--being told by the US Department of Labor that "this is not a case" is worse.

The Government Accountability Office released a report yesterday that excoriates the Department of Labor for doing nothing to help people who complained about not getting paid for their work.
GAO identified case studies that show WHD inadequately investigated complaints from low-wage and minimum wage workers alleging that employers failed to pay the federal minimum wage, required overtime, and failed to pay employees their last paychecks. Examples of inadequate WHD responses to complaints included instances where WHD inappropriately rejected complaints, failed to adequately investigate complaints, or neglected to investigate until it was too late. The investigations for these cases were inadequate for a variety of reasons.

For example, investigators stated that some delays in investigating cases were caused by a backlog of complaints. In these cases by the time a complaint was assigned to an investigator, the statute of limitations for assessing back wages was close to expiring. In another instance an investigator stated that a thorough investigation was not performed because the complaint was filed anonymously. In addition, several investigators stated that because complaints were related to isolated issues, WHD did not normally perform a full investigation.

Finally, for one last paycheck complaint, when asked about why a thorough investigation was not performed, the investigator simply stated it "was not a case."

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt--you're not going to be able to solve every problem, every issue and every dispute. We're not talking about a lot of money here--we're talking about something more important.

We're talking about trying to do something on behalf of people for whom that small amount of money is a lot of money and for people who at least tried to complain, at least tried to seek redress, and who used the system to reconcile their differences with an employer.

Somebody forgot what they're supposed to be doing for working Americans:

The Department of Labor fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.

The Department of Labor isn't there because employers need to be protected--it's there because employees have been ripped off, taken advantage of, and abused. And if they can't at least try to stand up for the little guy, then those investigators, their supervisors--everyone--needs to quit and go work somewhere else. And, maybe, just maybe, when their employer rips them off, they'll figure out what this is supposed to be about.

You can be damned certain of one thing--those bureaucrats would scream to high heaven and file grievance after grievance if the Department of Labor didn't pay them for a week's worth of work.

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