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Local company pays over $37,000 in overtime to employees after USDOL probe

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — For failure to pay overtime to more than 120 current and former workers as required by federal labor law, Purse Seine Samoa Inc., has paid more than more $37,000 to the affected workers, according to the US Department of Labor (USDOL).

Samoa News learned early last week about the investigation over unpaid overtime to several employees carried out by a USDOL investigator — and that the investigation was completed with checks to be handed out to affected employees around 5p.m. last week Thursday.

Around 4:30 p.m, Thursday, Samoa News staff observed a long line of people — believed to be employees — around the Purse Seine Samoa purse seiner net yard area — on the main dock near to the oil dock — which is visible from the main road, and located behind the ECE Building in Utulei.

It was also observed at the time, a woman was sitting at a table next to the fenced facility, as people were lined up, and picking up what appeared to be envelopes.

At least two people — one current employee and the other a family member of a current employee — claimed that checks were being handed out to employees as a result of the federal labor investigation.

Samoa News reached out last Friday morning to the USDOL San Francisco Regional Office and sought responses to several questions. Samoa News also identified, in the email questions to USDOL, the name of the USDOL investigator for this case.

Regarding the findings into the federal investigation of non-payment of overtime, San Francisco Regional Office public affairs director Leo Kay said 129 current and former employees of Purse Seine Samoa “were paid $37,957.60 in back wages due to the firm's failure to pay the mandatory overtime premium for work in excess of 40 hours in a workweek as required by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Key explained that USDOL Wage Hour Division (WHD) conducts investigations for a number of reasons, all having to do with enforcement of federal labor laws and assuring an employer's compliance.

Additionally, the WHD does not typically disclose the reason for an investigation. Many are initiated by complaints, which are all “confidential”. In the event a complaint has been filed, the name of the worker and nature of the complaint are not disclosable. “Whether a complaint exists may not be disclosed,” said Kay via email from San Francisco last Friday afternoon.

Regarding the violations identified by USDOL, Kay identified two issues, and the first is that the majority of the overtime back wages — $31,842.11 —  resulted from the firm's practice of classifying its supplemental — or temporary — work force as independent contractors while paying them at least the minimum wage associated with ship maintenance of $5.41 per hour.

“The supplemental temporary workforce, which fluctuated throughout the year based on the firm's labor needs, never received their half time premium pay for their hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek,” Kay explained.

On the second issue, three-full time workers were paid a flat guaranteed salary for all hours worked without any half time premium for their hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Total overtime back wages owed to these three non-managerial workers is $6,115.49.

Asked what steps the firm has promised USDOL to take to ensure future compliance with federal labor law, Kay said Purse Seine Samoa would no longer consider its temporary supplemental workforce as independent contractors.

“All of these workers are now considered hourly employees of Purse Seine Samoa Inc.,” said Kay. “As such, they will receive their entitlement to overtime premium pay whenever they work in excess of 40 hours in a workweek.”

Additionally, the firm has reclassified its salaried non-exempt staff as hourly workers who will receive their overtime pay entitlement when working over 40 hours in a workweek. “These workers will also have their actual hours tracked in a time keeping system rather than being paid according to a default schedule of hours worked for salaried workers,” he said.

Samoa News has learned that the company is owned by Greg Stuart, who is based in San Diego. Asked if any fines or penalties  were imposed on the company and its owner, Kay said, this is the first investigation of this business by the USDOL-WHD. “There are no associated fines or penalties with this investigation,” he said.

A phone number in San Diego associated with Stuart, when contacted by Samoa News, was answered as a business line. The woman, who answered the phone, said Stuart was not available last Friday afternoon and he would probably be in Tuesday or Wednesday this week.

There was no immediately response to a phone message left at the Purse Seine Samoa office for the company’s general manager for a comment.