Back Wages Help Grandmother Catch Up
Desiree Montgomery took a housekeeping job in a St. Louis motel to try to make ends meet, and was paid just $1 per room. Her employer required her to live at the motel so she could be on call to clean as rooms turned over. This meant she was often working 10 to 15 hours a day, six days a week. Initially she was paid in cash and often made as little as $15 a day. When the employer did start issuing checks, she took home up to $250 on a good week, averaging under $4 an hour − far less than the minimum wage. "The things I had to do for the money were ridiculous,” Desiree said, referring to building maintenance functions that went far beyond housekeeping. She wasn’t the only employee who felt conditions were unfair, and a complaint led the Wage and Hour Division to investigate the hotel’s pay practices.
Shortly after Desiree provided information about her pay and working conditions to an investigator, she suffered a heart attack on the job that left her unable to return to work. Earlier this year, her employer, Sasak Corp., signed a settlement agreement with the Wage and Hour Division that required them to pay $200,000 in back pay and damages to 51 housekeepers, front desk clerks and laundry service employees to remedy minimum wage and overtime violations. Desiree received a check for $16,000. She was able to catch up on bills, make co-payments on her medication, buy some furniture and help her children and grandchildren. “I had never heard of the Wage and Hour Division before this and I am glad there was someone on my side,” Desiree said. Today Desiree is unable to work full time due to a disability but enjoys taking care of her grandchildren and volunteering as a dog walker. “Receiving the back wages really made a difference in my life,” she said. 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 by using the online tool, Workers Owed Wages. Editor’s note: The DOL Working for You series highlights the Labor Department’s programs in action. View other posts in the series here. Ephraim Mufson is the assistant district director for the department's Wage and Hour Division in St. Louis.