Employees at a Beaverton business worked 12-hour days, six-day weeks, and made less than minimum wage. Now they are getting a big payout after a federal investigation.
On Nov. 30 the U.S. Department of Labor announced that Stars Cleaning Service violated labor laws for 19 of its workers.
The department said that employees didn't get overtime, and when you do the math they made less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Now the company will have to pay out $70,000 to its employees in back wages.
For three years, Rafaela Lopez worked hard for Stars Cleaning Service, working extra hours that she wasn't paid for. On Wednesday she spoke with her son by her side translating.
“She was taken advantage of. She just feels really glad that she's not there anymore.” said Lopez's son, Cesar Hernandez, who translated for his mother. “She thinks it's good that [the owner] pays that up especially after what they made her go through and she thinks it's still not enough based on what [the owner] did to her and her coworkers.”
In addition, the Department of Labor said the owner of the company told workers to falsify time records, threatened to reduce hours or pay, offered cash to employees who stayed silent, and intimidated workers with immigration-related threats.
Romeo Sosa with VOZ, an immigration and labor advocacy group in Portland, says this kind of situation unfortunately happens too often.
“People, they already earn that money and they need that money for food for rent,” said Sosa.
Too often, people are also scared to say anything because of their immigration status. But Thomas J. Silva with the Department of Labor said people shouldn’t be scared to speak out.
“It doesn't matter if they come from Mexico, Ireland, India or Jupiter. If they work in the U.S. they are entitled to minimum wage and overtime,” said Silva.
KGW tried to get in touch with the owner of the company, but they were not home and did not answer their phone.
The Department of Labor also said the employer tried a bankruptcy scheme to try to get out of the penalty.
Lopez is hopeful for the future.
“Hopefully [the employer] treats her employees better because not only are they employees, but they're humans as well,” said Lopez through her son's translation.
If you or someone you know feels your company is taking advantage of you, speak up. Silva said it's confidential.
To report any concerns, call 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or for more information go to the Department of Labor’s website.