City's law on wages violated

Concessions owner failed to give workers overtime pay at convention center

Company disburses checks

283 employees identified as being owed $131,000 for exceeding 8 hours a day

February 04, 2004|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

An investigation of payroll records for the private concessionaire at the Baltimore Convention Center has turned up hundreds of violations of Baltimore's living-wage statute, and nearly 300 workers have received checks to make up for underpayments.

Jerry Gonce, director of the Baltimore Wage Commission, said that Aramark Sports & Entertainment Services acknowledged the violations after dual investigations by his agency and Aramark confirmed the underpayments.

Gonce said the investigation showed Aramark did not always pay workers overtime when they worked more than eight hours in a single day, a requirement under the city living-wage statute. The 9-year-old statute applies to all companies working under city contracts.

The director said the Aramark case was one of the largest handled by his agency. Thus far, 283 current and former employees have been identified who were owed a total of $131,000, Gonce said.

"This had been going on for a couple years, and no one had noticed," he said.

Aramark officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The Pennsylvania company, city officials said, apparently had assumed that overtime was only required when an employee worked more than 40 hours in a week.

The violations were first brought to the attention of the wage panel by leaders of Local 7 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. With the union's assistance, eight employees filed individual complaints with the city alleging that their pay did not comply with the law.

The living wage, which is set annually, is $8.70 an hour. The same statute requires overtime pay of 1 1/2 times base pay when a worker puts in more than eight hours in a single day. The city requirement is tougher than federal law, which requires overtime pay only when an employee works more than 40 hours in a week.

Nick Weiner, a spokesman for the union, said he was pleased that city officials took the complaints seriously and conducted a detailed investigation. The wage agency has a single investigator to handle all complaints.

"It shows the importance of monitoring," Weiner added, noting that many workers may not realize that the wage law applies to them. He said it was unlikely the violations would have become known without the union's intervention.

Weiner said the disclosure of the complaints also had a positive effect on negotiations between the union and Aramark, which were going on at the time. Under a contract that went into effect last year, Aramark workers, nearly all of them part-timers, received retroactive raises totaling 40 cents an hour dating to 2002. Another 40-cents-an-hour raise became effective with the signing of the contract in September. The union official noted that many of the workers received their checks for the unpaid overtime just before Christmas.

Annette Lednum of Baltimore, who has worked at the convention center nearly four years, said her check for about $1,300 came about a month ago. There was no explanation, she said, just a check and just in time for Christmas.

Gonce, the wage commission official, stressed that Aramark officials cooperated with the city and turned over records of convention center workers.

"They've made a good-faith effort," he said.

Gonce said other workers who have yet to be identified are likely to be due payments as the investigation continues. Those workers were hired through temporary employment agencies and then assigned to duty on a spot basis at the convention center.

The director said he could not predict how long it will take to identify those other workers.

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