Wage theft in Minnesota

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Steven Suffridge worked nights at a fast food restaurant. Sometimes his supervisors said he had to work straight through the mandatory 30-minute break, but the restaurant still deducted the time from his paycheck. That’s one of the examples of wage theft cited in an investigative series from Workday Minnesota. Other examples come from janitors, health care workers, construction, on-line jobs, and more.

The “classic example” of wage theft, according to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, is a worker who leaves a job and then doesn’t receive a final paycheck. According to the first article in the Workday Minnesota series,

“In fiscal year 2015, the department handled 1,229 of these ‘wage claims,’ which amounted to about $553,000 for 623 workers, according to Jessica Looman, deputy commissioner of the department.”

Failure to get a final paycheck moved one restaurant worker to look at all of her paychecks. Each work day, she had gotten a small piece of paper with hours clocked on it. She had stuffed these small slips into envelopes, and still had most of them. After adding up all of these small pieces of paper and comparing them with her paychecks, she discovered that almost every paycheck had been short by a couple of hours. She wrote down all of the hours and refused to give in when the restaurant owner tried to bully her into dropping her claim. After letters and complaints, she eventually got paid. As far as she knew, none of the other restaurant employees saved the little daily slips of paper or compared the daily time slips with their paychecks.

Navigating the system is tough, say advocates. Federal and state laws are complex, and often workers don’t have written records.

Like food service workers, home health care workers get little pay, and often suffer from wage theft. Crystal Care, a home health care company based in Richfield, owed $1.4 million to 800 workers when the company went bankrupt. In a 2013 case,

“Accurate Home Care, LLC did not pay 33 employees overtime wages (1.5 times their hourly pay) for hours worked over 48 hours per week. Instead, the company paid employees quarterly bonuses based on the number of extra shifts they took. These bonuses did not add up to what employees would have made under state overtime law and they were ultimately owed $94,783.64.”

In Workday Minnesota, Barb Kucera writes:

“About 500 companies currently provide home health care in Minnesota. The business can be lucrative, said Francis Hall, who has worked as a PCA for 15 years. The state might reimburse an agency $17.04 an hour for home care, while they pay the home care worker $10.75 an hour, she said. The company pockets the difference.

“’There are some companies out there that are very substantial and do everything by the book,’ Hall said in an interview with Workday. ‘Then there are these other companies that really don’t care. They’re basically just out there for the money.’”

Hardly surprising, then, that Minnesota faces a shortage of home health care workers. According to the Star Tribune:

“An acute and worsening shortage of home care workers across much of Minnesota has reached a crisis point, threatening patient safety and forcing families into desperate measures to care for their loved ones.”

Here are links to the whole series in Workday Minnesota. Read an article. Read all the articles. Remember that you, or your son or daughter, neighbor or friend, might need this information to protect your own paycheck:

People “sometimes feel like there’s something wrong, but they don’t know exactly what it is and they don’t know what to call it,” said Ernesto Velez, director of Centro Campesino(link is external), which does organizing among farm workers.

“If your job is always a cash job, if you’re always paid by cash, or by check with no deductions made, why would you question it?” notes Burt Johnson, general counsel for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.(link is external) “If you’re never paid overtime, why would you question … not being paid overtime? If you don’t normally get breaks, why would you question getting breaks? So there’s a big education problem here.”






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