Southeast Texas hotel workers receive $285K in back wages

On a motel housekeeper’s wages, Iris Castro lives on a budget that barely makes ends meet. When her aging parents’ ill health demanded medications, she couldn’t afford to send money home to her native Honduras. Unable to return home, she is left to mourn their deaths in the past two years and saddened by her inability to help pay for their care.

Castro is one of the hundreds of low-wage workers in Southeast Texas’ hotel industry whose hard work doesn’t always equal fair pay. She is also one of 125 workers who will benefit after investigations by the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division’s Clear Lake District Office. The division found Castro’s employer – Baymont Inn of Galveston – failed to pay her overtime and, as a result, owes her $13,000 in back wages and liquidated damages – more than half her yearly income of roughly $20,000.

Sadly, she is not alone. Similar stories are often heard in hotel break rooms in the Houston area which, since 2014, has welcomed nearly 15 million tourists. In February 2017, the city will host Super Bowl LI.

In Fiscal Year 2016, division investigations of area employers in the hotel industry found employees working off the clock, being paid straight time for overtime hours and not getting paid for mandatory training time. Investigators also found employers violating child labor regulations that restrict the hours minors may work.  In all, 41 investigations will recover back wages and assess liquidated damages totaling $285,000 for more than 125 workers. Like Castro, the amounts some of them receive will represent more than half a year’s wages.

“The violations we have found are all too common in this industry.  For many workers, the funds we recovered for them are very significant sums,” said Betty Campbell, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest. “The findings in these cases tell us we still have work to do. Our ongoing enforcement initiative will continue to use every enforcement tool we have available, such as administrative subpoenas, liquidated damages, and civil money penalties to create incentives for employers to comply with federal wage and hour laws, and to ensure that these workers take home every penny they have rightfully earned.”

The recent investigations also found employers that failed to pay overtime to employees working at multiple locations or when working dual jobs for the same employer, paying for each separately, at straight time. They also found employers that “banked” employees’ overtime hours, to be paid out in future workweeks at straight time. Others violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to maintain time and payroll records, or display posters to inform workers about their workplace rights.

Castro’s employer, Baymont Inn was just one of the many recognizable hospitality brands that drew the attention of federal investigators. In Galveston, they found violations at Baymont Inn, Super 8 and Travelodge Hotel locations.

At the Baymont Inn and Super 8 hotels, 10 housekeepers and maintenance workers received approximately $103,000 in back wages and liquidated damages.

At a Galveston Travelodge Hotel, 11 housekeepers, front desk and maintenance workers received nearly $20,000 in back wages and liquidated damages.

The Wage and Hour Division uses data and evidence to focus its resources strategically on where violations rates are high but the likelihood of workers speaking up is low, and employs a combination of enforcement and education to boost compliance. In Houston, the division continues to engage key employer associations and employee advocates to educate the hotel industry about the systemic violations typically found, and to provide employers with FLSA compliance assistance information to improve compliance in the future.

In 2017, the division will expand outreach, education, and enforcement in the industry to more cities and states in the Southwest and beyond to continue to combat these widespread violations.

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also are required to maintain accurate time and payroll records.

For more information about federal wage laws, call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Clear Lake District Office at 281-488-0690. Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.