for Qwest files suit
Says firm failing to pay overtime
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
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
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
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.