Wal-Mart warehouse workers file wage theft suit

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ELWOOD, Ill. - A group of 18 warehouse workers here filed a lawsuit in federal court Nov. 18 against two staffing firms they say are not paying them for the hours they worked.

The alleged wage theft scheme is taking place at a Wal-Mart warehouse in this far southwest suburb of Chicago. Orlando, Fla.-based Eclipse Advantage, the staffing firm that hired the workers, was named in the suit, along with Midwest Temp Group Inc., which has offices in area suburbs New Lenox and Bolingbrook.

Both temp companies are accused of violating the Illinois Day and Temporary Services Act, one of the strongest state laws in the country.

Wal-Mart was not named in the suit.

The workers belong to Warehouse Workers for Justice, based in Joliet, Ill. The group and its members have filed three similar suits against Wal-Mart in the past two years.

The new lawsuit complaint notes the workers were promised $9.25 to $10 an hour. The minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25 an hour. The workers were also told they could earn bonuses.

However the workers claim their paychecks failed to match the actual hours employees worked and did not even equal the minimum wage. The suit charges the workers were also promised paid vacation, which critics note is a recruitment tactic during the busy holiday season. They were never granted paid leave.

"I worked 21 hours for Eclipse my first week and I was paid $57 for it," said Roberto Gutierrez, one of the workers, in a statement. "The company says I only worked 12 hours, but even by their logic I was still paid less than the minimum wage. That's never right, especially so close to the holidays, that's why we came together and filed this. To put a stop to it."

On Nov. 21, Gutierrez, along with several dozen other workers, marched to the Wal-Mart warehouse to demand receipt of the company's Bill and Pay records in an effort to gain further insight into how much they are owed.

Workers are demanding back pay and an injunction against both Eclipse Advantage and Midwest Temp to end their practice of not providing accurate information in writing to temporary laborers. The suit is asking a federal judge to restore owed wages and order the two staffing firms to provide conditions of employment in writing at the time the workers are hired.

A human resources executive for Eclipse, who refused to give her name, told Crain's Chicago Business the allegations against the company are "unfounded and will be defended vigorously." She added, "Eclipse has and will continue to pay its employees in compliance with all applicable laws and at competitive rates."

In the same news story a Wal-Mart spokesman noted, "If the allegations are accurate, we will require our contractor to take appropriate action immediately."

The practice of shorting overtime, skirting minimum wage and forcing employees to work off the clock has been the subject of an increasing number of lawsuits.

The warehouse workers say they are tired of the abuse and want the temp agencies and their mega-retailer contractor to stop nickel-and-diming their wages. They say Wal-Mart is ultimately responsible for the wages and working conditions in the warehouses where the goods for their stores are received, stored and distributed. Those warehouses are an essential part of the big box store operation, they say.

Meanwhile, the National Consumers League has issued a special warning about wage theft targeting seasonal and part-time workers. For more information on wage theft, see their website

Photo: (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

 

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