The Association of U S West Retirees



Salesman for Qwest files suit
Says firm failing to pay overtime
Ken Alltucker
The Arizona Republic
Friday, May. 5, 2006

A Qwest salesman filed a federal lawsuit stating that the telephone company consistently violates overtime laws by failing to pay sales workers for work duties performed on their own time.

The lawsuit, filed by Qwest employee Steven Brechler, contends that the company's call-center workers are required to make and take calls as soon as they start an eight-hour shift.  That policy forces many workers to finish mandatory tasks such as reading company e-mail or checking sales orders off the clock or during breaks in order to properly complete their job duties.

"A lot of employees work before and after their actual shift," said Wendy Harrison, a lawyer representing Brechler.  "Qwest knows this, and they just don't pay them."

Qwest representatives would not comment on the federal lawsuit filed at U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

"I always see an environment that is very professional," spokesman Jeff Mirasola said of the call-center workers.  "We are focused on creating a good experience for our customers.  We have to have a productive atmosphere for our employees."

Brechler's lawsuit claims workers often arrive early to perform duties such as logging on to computers, launching software programs, verifying written orders and reading company e-mails, which include information about new regulations and rules that workers must know.

Other end-of-shift tasks take time, too, such as verifying and printing orders logged during the shift, checking orders and logging off the computer.

Though workers are sometimes paid for mandatory overtime work, they are not allowed to document pre- and postshift duties on time sheets.  Call-center workers who are not available for calls during 90 percent of on-the-clock time are subject to discipline, the lawsuit stated.

Brechler's lawyers want the company to provide a list of all sales consultants who have worked at any of Qwest's 20 call centers nationwide over the past three years.  Those employees will be given the option of joining the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks the court to find that Qwest violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and order the company to pay back wages, interest, damages and attorney fees.

Harrison said Brechler did not file a complaint with the Department of Labor, preferring instead to pursue the matter in court.

Qwest union representatives did not know of specific violations alleged by Brechler.  But they are aware that some workers have complained about being asked to field calls for the entire shift.

Shift supervisors are supposed to allow workers enough time to review paperwork and perform other duties before taking calls, said Chris Rossie, president of Communications Workers of America Local 7019, which represents more than 3,000 Qwest employees in Arizona.

"The company's position is to make sure everybody started and ended right on time," Rossie said.  "That falls apart when you come in early to get done what you need to get done to start on time."

Qwest isn't the only company accused of such labor violations.

On Thursday, the Labor Department announced a settlement that requires Compass Bank to pay more than $1 million in back overtime to almost 3,000 employees who worked through lunch and stayed late without pay.

In July 2005, health insurer Humana Inc. paid more than $1 million in back wages to about 2,500 employees after an investigation showed similar violations at call centers in Louisville, Ky., Cincinnati and Green Bay Wis.

That Labor Department investigation showed workers didn't get paid properly for duties such as booting computers.