AAA estimates that 42.5 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and 38 million Americans will take to the roads. Those who stop for gas in New Jersey will see a familiar site: gas station attendants hard at work.
Since 1949, it has been illegal for motorists to pump their own gasoline in New Jersey – the only state to insist on full-service gas stations besides Oregon. New Jersey gas stations employ thousands of attendants, many of whom provide additional services such as vehicle maintenance and repair work. Many drivers, however, are not aware that a number of these attendants are vulnerable, low-wage workers paid unfairly by their employers.
The Wage and Hour Division’s ongoing enforcement efforts in New Jersey’s gas station industry have revealed consistent and widespread noncompliance with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions. To combat this culture of noncompliance, the division is conducting a multiyear enforcement initiative aimed at remedying systemic violations, informing gas station workers of their rights, and educating employers of their responsibilities under the FLSA. Under this initiative, the division conducted 74 investigations of gas station facilities throughout the state of New Jersey in 2011, recovering $1,014,895 in back wages for 295 workers who were denied fair compensation for all hours of their work.
Of the 74 investigated establishments, 69 were BP branded gas stations. Common violations found include paying workers below the federal minimum wage; paying a flat salary for all hours worked, without regard to federal minimum wage or overtime requirements; and paying cash wages “off the books,” rather than maintaining accurate records of employees’ wages, work hours and employment conditions, as required under the FLSA.
Our division also reached out to stakeholders, such as the New Jersey Gasoline C-Store Automotive Association, to participate in seminars aimed at assisting owners of gas stations and repair shops as well as third-party operators with achieving and maintaining compliance with all applicable federal wage and hour laws. More information about the initiative is available here.
The beginning of a paradigm shift in New Jersey’s gas station industry is underway. Our division will continue this enforcement initiative through another phase of investigations, as well as continue our ongoing outreach efforts to employer and employee associations, community organizations, government agencies, unions and other stakeholders to engage their participation in promoting sustained and industry-wide compliance.
We recognize that there is much more work to be done. Each step towards progress in achieving the goal of full FLSA compliance in the New Jersey gas station industry strengthens the resolve and dedication of our agency and team to ensure all workers are paid fairly.
The author, Joseph Petrecca is the director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Northern New Jersey District Office.