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State has little power to chase after unpaid wages

Posted December 16, 2008

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— As more companies shut down in the struggling economy, more employees are not only finding themselves unemployed, they also find they're getting stiffed for wages owed to them.

The state Department of Labor has received about 5,500 complaints this year alone from employees who claim that they haven't been paid for their work. But officials said a growing backlog and limited enforcement power make it difficult to recoup money for employees.

"They think that, No. 1, I can say money is due and I can get them a check, and I can't," said Jim Taylor, administrator of the Wage and Hour Bureau at the Department of Labor.

The bureau will go to court to help workers in a limited number of cases, but most cases are dealt with out of court, with state investigators urging employers to comply with labor laws, Taylor said. The agency has won $285,000 in back pay for employees so far this year, he said.

"Generally, when (employees) call us, they need their money yesterday," he said, adding that he empathizes with frustrated workers. "They're just tired of waiting and they're just in dire economic straits."

Seventeen employees of Raleigh-based  USHomeComfort, for example, said the building contractor still owes them more than $25,000 total in back wages after it closed unexpectedly two weeks ago.

Taylor said the backlog of complaints makes collecting back wages difficult. His 18 investigators have watched the list of pending cases grow from 722 in June 2005 to more than 2,100.

"The number of calls we get – the number of complaints we get – (is) increasing," he said.

When Raleigh's Prime Only Restaurant shut down suddenly in October, workers filed complaints with the state, hoping to get paid. The case still doesn't have an investigator assigned to it, Taylor said.

"The issues (in that case) are going to be, are there any assets, which I don't think there are," he said.

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  • TheAdmiral Dec 17, 2008

    "These workers need to just hold on until the new governor takes office i know for sure that she will get the ncdol straighten out."

    Yeah, and Obama can walk on water. Bev Perdue has a record of supporting her pet projects and leaving everyone else to eat the scraps out of the trash can.

    I wouldn't hope on her to do squat. Perhaps holding your breath is a better solution?

  • TheAdmiral Dec 17, 2008

    Why should the state feel the need to chase after unpaid wages? What is the state going to do with a company that evaporates overnight? Absolutely nothing.

    If you have not been paid what you have worked for, you need to file a lawsuit against the company. And have concrete evidence. And when you win your case, you make darned sure that you are charging them for so much as buying a pencil to take them to court.

    The state Labor department in a right to work state is something that should not, and need not exist. It is up to the people to take the corporations to court for unpaid wages.

  • IMONC Dec 17, 2008

    What WRAL does not post is the mere fact that it is the decision of the Attorney General to go after the employer's, not the NCDOL. I had a complaint I filed a while back and the Investigator was able to find all the back wages owed. I was waiting for the money but my prior employer would not pay. I was mad until I inquired and found out that the reason why NCDOL cannot go after the employer rests solely on the Attorney General who prosecutes the cases. It has to be extremely hard trying to get the money for employees knowing that the time and efforts will do nothing because the cases will not be prosecuted. I ended up taking the case to Small Claims in Wake County. I got a copy of the report and the employer had to pay all of my backwages, interest, and all of the findings that the Investigator found due. It is well worth getting a copy of the report and going to the Magistrates Office to get your money because the Attorney General will not prosecute anything.

  • CestLaVie Dec 17, 2008

    Thanks for publishing this story so others will decide to take advantage of their workers, some more!

  • pbjbeach Dec 17, 2008

    These workers need to just hold on until the new governor takes office i know for sure that she will get the ncdol straighten out. an have these workers with pockets full of money before you know it . considering how much that she supposely care about the citizens of north carolina to here her talk , ( HA ! HA ! L.O.L.) All she will care about is just seeing how fast she can fill her own pockets just like the rest of the politicians in this state dem or republican

  • toobad Dec 16, 2008

    The state of nc has no problem collecting taxes. When it comes time to provide services the taxes were collected for, the state has a problem providing the service. It sounds like insurance companies. Hey we are glad to collect the premiums, What do you mean you have a claim, did you not read the fine print?

  • elatsmith Dec 16, 2008

    What a joke, they have only collected 300,000 for employees , Bet they have spent millions to do that. The state doesnt even pay its own employees . They spent 100,000,000 -yes million, on a new payroll software system that doesnt work. At my agency employees are owed thousands each, and we cant even call the labor wages board, their limited power does not apply to publice sector employees . They suck

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Dec 16, 2008

    "TAXMAN I FOR ONE AM IN TOTAL AGREEMENT WITH YOUR ABOVE STATEMENT. LET THE BOSSES SELL THEIR PERSONNAL PROPERTY TO FUND PAYING THESE UNPAID WORKERS THAT THEY OWE MONEY TO . THIS IS NO WAY FOR EMPLOYEES TO BE TREATED IF THEY HAVE WORKED IN GOOD FAITH AN THEN TO NOT GET PAID IS JUST PLAIN WRONG"

    pbjbeach, the problem is that most businesses are corporations and are separate entities from the owner (stockholders). When a corporation fails, the owner (stockholders) isn't liable for it's debts. Only exception is if the owner (stockholders) cosign a loan for the corporation.

  • whatusay Dec 16, 2008

    Why does this agency exist if they have no power? Why not eliminate the entire department and save tax payers some money and reduce the size of government?

  • OSX Dec 16, 2008

    Huh... If the Department of Labor has little power to do anything, how about we get rid of them. They are nothing more than a drain for money. One step closer to keep us from a tax increase. Mr. Taylor, you and your investigators aren't doing much good anyway so what do you do?

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