The Call That Paid Off

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Working for You

Javier Juarez was thankful to have a job as a dishwasher and food prep assistant at the Señor Taco restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee. But for the 10 years he worked there, he had nagging questions about his pay because it often seemed incorrect.

“I knew there had to be someone to talk to about my pay, I just didn’t know who,” Javier explained through an interpreter. Eventually a shift manager told him, “You are working too many hours for not enough money,” and recommended that Javier contact the Labor Department.

Javier reached out to the Nashville District Office of the department’s Wage and Hour Division. With the help of Spanish-speaking staff, the division was able to work with him and other employees to gather information that painted a grim picture of wage violations.

Javier with one of the investigators who helped with his case. Javier with Irene Hernández, one of the investigators who helped with his case.

The division opened an investigation, finding numerous overtime and minimum wage violations – not uncommon in the restaurant industry, which employs many low-wage and vulnerable workers who may not know their rights. Ultimately the investigation found that 22 Señor Taco workers, including Javier, were owed back pay.

Javier received nearly $25,000 in back wages. He is excited that he can now better support his family and afford to buy a new car. He has moved on to another restaurant, but his friends at Señor Taco tell him things have improved there where labor laws are concerned.

“I will never be afraid to speak up again, because I know my voice will be heard,” Javier shared.

If you are concerned about your company’s pay practices, or you are an employer who wants to be sure you are complying with the law, learn more on the Wage and Hour Division’s website or by calling 1-866-4-US-WAGE (1-866-487-9243). You also can check to see if back wages are being held for you as the result of an investigation using the online tool, Workers Owed Wages.

Lindsay Williams is a public affairs specialist for the department in Atlanta.


Una Orden de Tacos con Paga Justa

Por Lindsay Williams

Javier Juárez se sentía agradecido por tener un trabajo como lavaplatos y asistente de preparación de comida en el restaurante Señor Taco de Knoxville, Tennessee. Pero ya con 10 años trabajando allí, frecuentemente le venían a la cabeza dudas sobre su paga, porque a menudo le parecía que era incorrecta.

“Yo sabía que debía haber alguien por ahí a quien yo le pudiera hablar sobre mi salario. Simplemente no sabía quién podría ser esa persona”, dijo Javier. Finalmente, un jefe de turno le recomendó que contactara al Departamento de Trabajo porque, le dijo, “usted no está recibiendo la paga que le corresponde por la gran cantidad de horas que trabaja”.

Javier con Irene Hernández, una de las investigadoras que ayudó con su caso. Javier con Irene Hernández, una de las investigadoras que ayudó con su caso.

Javier contactó con la oficina distrital de la División de Horas y Salarios en Nashville. Allí, con la ayuda del personal de habla hispana, la división fue capaz de trabajar con él y con otros empleados para reunir información que reveló un oscuro panorama de violaciones salariales.

Luego de abrir una investigación, la división descubrió numerosas violaciones al salario mínimo y al sobretiempo. Estas violaciones no son extrañas en restaurantes, una industria que emplea a muchos trabajadores vulnerables de bajos ingresos que quizás no saben cuáles son sus derechos. Finalmente, la investigación determinó que a 22 trabajadores de Taco, incluido Javier, se les debían salarios retroactivos.

Javier recibió casi $25.000 en salarios atrasados. Él ahora está feliz de poder apoyar mejor a su familia, y de poderse comprar un carro nuevo. Ya se ha pasado a otro restaurante, pero sus amigos de Señor Taco le comentan que las cosas allí han mejorado respecto de la ley laboral.

“Ya nunca tendré miedo a hablar porque sé que mi voz será escuchada”, dijo Javier.

Si usted está preocupado por las prácticas de pago en su empresa, o es empleador y quiere estar seguro de que está cumpliendo con la ley, aprenda más visitando el sitio web de la División de Horas y Salarios o llamando al 1-866-4-US-WAGE (1-866-487-9243). También puede ver si hay salarios atrasados para usted como resultado de una investigación, usando la herramienta en línea de salarios adeudados a los trabajadores.

Lindsay Williams es especialista en información pública del departamento en Atlanta.


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John, it is DOL's responsibility to be "employee-oriented", to enforce the laws that have been passed by the US Congress which specify the rights of employees.

Employers have nothing to fear from DOL if they comply with our Congress's laws.

If anything, DOL lacks the resources to do that job as well as it needs to be done, especially in the current environment where employers are looking for (and being helped by conservative think tanks to find) ways to weasel out of their legal obligations by such things as claiming line workers are "managers" and people whose working lives they control in almost every detail are "independent contractors".

He has worked in this country for 10 years and he needed an interpreter? Really? While they were checking on his back pay, why didn't they check his immigrant status too? I didn't realize work visas were good for 10 years.

How many languages do you speak?

Because he was afraid for his job. I have a friend who has been a low level manager at a fast food place for 5 years now. Once the place closes for the night, he is pressured to work "off the clock" until he gets the books, restocking, etc. completed and can finally go home. Otherwise it lowers his apparent profitability and counts against him as a manager. He works for 1 to 2 hours FREE per shift, giving him an hourly wage of barely above minimum wage, even though he is nominally making over $12 an hour. He says this is "company policy" and everyone does it! When I suggest to him he needs to report this to Wage and Hour, he is afraid he will lose his job, because of course although the DOL can recover those lost wages for him, the company WILL know who made the report.

5 years as a "low level manager..." Is he a salary exempt worker? If so, he can work as many or as few hours as necessary to complete the job. If he is hourly, why on earth would you suggest that he report this to "Wage and Hour?" After five years on the job, why don't you help with his resume, his confidence, his presentation, etc. and help him find a new job if you are that concerned about him. If all that you are saying is true (which is not first-hand knowledge unless you are an employee also), you are spreading a rumor that may/may not have any truth whatsoever.


"The division opened an investigation, finding numerous overtime and minimum wage violations – not uncommon in the restaurant industry, which employs many low-wage and vulnerable workers who may not know their rights."

Why are there workers "who may not know their rights?" Agree that Senor Taco made some errors, and maybe even in judgment... but to assume that this is some sort of mass problem "not uncommon in the restaurant industry" is an insult to the millions of workers and companies that DO KNOW their rights. DOL, please give us the whole story... If Javier had questions for 10 years about his wages, why didn't he leave the company in year one? Why didn't he sit down with his church pastor or priest to discuss, why didn't discuss with someone else about helping him look at his paycheck and keep track of his hours. In ten years are you trying to tell me that no one in his life, absolutely no one other than the DOL could have assisted him? What was the underlying reason he didn't speak up within that first year? Too many unanswered questions.

The restaurant industry is one of many industries where these kinds of practices go unchecked. Larger organizations do well with labor law compliance but the majority are small companies that are either ignorant of labor laws or outright violate them knowing who they employ. Low paying jobs often employ workers who have little education, even less knowledge of their rights as employees, and often have language and cultural barriers. Ignorance on both sides is a recipe for violations (pun intended). Sadly, many employers knowingly violate the law and leverage employment where workers depend on their jobs for income and often live paycheck to paycheck. Even a short spell of unemployment can cause upheaval in the lives of most workers.

Why did the manager recommend he contact DOL instead of reporting the issue up the chain of command? Could it be because he knew the issue would fall on deaf ears? Or maybe because it could have led to some form of retaliation or even getting Javier fired? With three locations and 22 employees affected, this is probably the majority of the workforce. This is not likely an error in time keeping or even and error in judgement. Even with so little information, it's hard to believe that an employer wouldn't have received concerns from any employees in ten years which could have led it to identify and voluntarily correct their pay practices.

On a personal note, the suggestion that Javier go to their priest or pastor for help is a pretty ignorant statement and borders on being a racist comment. Is this who you would go to for employment advice? Let's keep race and religion out of company wide wage and hour violation concerns.

How is mention of a priest or pastor racist? People of all color, races, ethnicities talk to religious leaders.

This is a feel good press bit. These things never seem to tell the whole story. It is 100% employee-oriented, which is not fair. How many times do employers simply agree to these one-sided settlements because they cannot afford the legal costs to defend against the DOL with its army of lawyers?


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