The U.S. Department of Labor launched a search for employees from a Tempe-based plastering company that allegedly falsified records to avoid paying workers overtime, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Valley Wide Plastering is a local stucco and plastering contractor that has been conducting business under that name since 1980, records show.
The current investigation, filed by the Department of Labor in 2017 for erroneous record-keeping practices, lead to the lawsuit in the District Court of Arizona filed in 2018 alleging the company was also withholding overtime wages from workers.
Personnel from Valley Wide Plastering declined to give comment at this time.
Employees who worked there anytime from October 2015 up to now are encouraged to call the department’s Wage and Hour Division at 602-296-9723 for more information about the case.
With the call to action disseminated through various local and state community channels, the department is eager to hear back from former and current Valley Wide employees, explained Tara Stearns, trial attorney at the Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor.
“We need to hear from workers to help us against the case and also to help us determine how much back wages are owed,” Ms. Stearns told Independent Newsmedia this week.
She said that the department wants to hear about employee experiences working for the company including the number of hours worked and how much money they received for their contributions. Ms. Stearns also noted that workers cannot be penalized by their employer for talking to the Wage and Hour Division about the case.
To help spread the word here in Arizona, the regional department worked with local partners, like the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix, to inform employees of the ongoing case, explained Jose Carnevali, a Deputy Regional Director for Public Affairs at the department.
“We could not be more grateful for the joint work with the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix for all that they are doing to spread the word about this case,” Mr. Carnevali said.
The Consulate is a part of the EMPLEO Program, an alliance of government agencies, consulates and non-profit organizations providing education, services and protection of workplace rights and responsibilities.
Using this platform, the Consulate created Spanish announcements regarding the lawsuit to expand the breadth of the department’s search for Valley Wise employees.
“Many of these workers have already reached out and they are talking to our attorney about the case and providing a lot of information,” Mr. Carnevali said.
A complaint filed by a Valley Wise worker with the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division resulted in the initial company investigation launched in 2012.
The Wage and Hour Division assures that workers in the United States receive proper salary from their employers for the time spent working, regardless of a worker’s immigration status. The division’s duties include enforcing federal labor laws and conducting investigations into businesses to ensure compliance.
Following the first official complaint against the company, the division heard from several more workers who attested to Valley Wide’s inaccurate record-keeping practices.
“The life cycle of a case in litigation can depend on a lot of different factors,” Ms. Stearns said. “That is part of why we are trying to spread the message out to the community that we would like to get in touch with as many people who have worked for Valley Wide Plastering as possible.”
Valley Wide has hired hundreds of employees throughout the past several years; making it difficult for Ms. Stearns to calculate an exact number of back wages being withheld from workers who have or haven’t yet spoken up about their experience.
“Our lawsuit covers over five years of ongoing alleged violations, so we do believe that there is a substantial number of wages that are owed to a large group,” she said.
Workers will find out how much they will receive in overdue wages once the lawsuit concludes.
“The more people that contact us, the faster we can bring the litigation to a close and try to get money into the pockets of workers,” Ms. Stearns said.
Even after filing the case in 2018, the department still alleged the company “continued to fabricate and alter time records to hide the total number of hours its employees worked” and “began doctoring payroll to make it appear that [they’d been] paid overtime when, in fact, Valley Wide Plastering continues to deny workers’ wages they have legally earned.”
“We recently won an order from the judge that we are now likely to proceed on the merit of our claim that Valley Wide Plastering has not been keeping accurate records of hourly work,” Ms. Stearns explained.
On Feb. 5, the U.S. District Court in Arizona granted the preliminary injunction to prevent Valley Wide Plastering from continuing to commit further record-keeping violations.
As stated in a press release, they “found substantial evidence that Valley Wide Plastering, both before and during the litigation, inaccurately recorded employee work hours by filling in false hours or by manually altering the number of hours employees record without adequate justification.”
Ms. Stearns said that some documents they received from the company during the investigation were covered in white-out and photocopied in order to alter the number of reported hours.
Along with that, evidence was also found supporting the idea that the company had reduced wage rates to make it seem as though overtime was paid and that they failed to properly keep records by paying workers from non-payroll accounts.
The court ordered that Valley Wide Plastering reform the record-keeping practices immediately and to inform employees of their rights.
“[Valley Wide’s practice] has to be in compliance with federal record-keeping laws and start reporting more hours accurately starting now,” Ms. Stearns said.
The department’s mission is to provide workers like those at Valley Wide Plastering with the support and resources they need when reporting unethical workplace practices.
Piece-rate pay is contingent on the employer paying the worker for the full amount of time that they worked, which is why the department has stepped in to help employees get those wages back.
“Even if they are paid by the piece, which is common in construction, they still have the right to be paid for their work and their employers have an obligation to make sure that they’re keeping accurate time records and paying overtime to workers,” Ms. Stearns said.
She further explained that the department’s goal is to recover the wages that they believe are owed to the Valley Wise workers who have come forth to talk with the Wage and Hour Division.
“We’ve had a really strong response so far we’re very grateful that a lot of people have reached out to us and shared their experience and are learning about their rights under federal law,” Ms. Stearns said.