ST. ALBANS, Vt., October 31 - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and U.S. Department of Labor officials met here today with some of the 500 workers awarded $3 million in back wages owed by federal contractors.
"What this proves is that when workers stand up for their rights, as all of you have done, you can succeed," Sanders said. "Employers too often get away with wage theft and other labor violations, but you were not afraid. You knew that something was terribly wrong and you were not going to take it lying down."
Sanders first raised concern about the underpayments in 2007, when he asked the Labor Department to investigate potential labor law violations at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Vermont Service Center. Earlier this year, the senator met with Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis and urged her to complete the investigations.
"I am pleased that these workers will finally be properly compensated," Solis said in a letter she sent to Sanders yesterday. "Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. Please express my gratitude to these workers for the important services they provide our nation."
While applauding Solis and the work of the Labor Department Wage and Hour Division in the Vermont cases, Sanders noted that an investigation during the administration of President George W. Bush found that the federal agency charged with enforcing minimum wage, overtime and other labor laws had left millions of workers vulnerable. The Government Accountability Office found that the division mishandled nine of the 10 cases brought by a team of undercover agents posing as aggrieved workers.
In the Vermont cases, however, the back-to-back rulings this fall vindicated the workers and resulted in the largest settlement in the United States in at least a decade. "What is important to understand is that not only is it important for workers stand up for their rights it is also important to have a government committed to protecting those rights," Sanders said.
The Labor Department on Oct. 8 ordered more than $1.4 million in back wages to be paid to 237 employees of Computer Sciences Corp. a contractor for the Vermont Service Center work performed in St. Albans and Essex Junction. Labor officials on Sept. 30 had determined that more than $1.5 million in back wages were owed to another 272 workers employed by SI International during the period.
The Wage and Hour Division found that the companies misclassified employees and failed to pay the prevailing wage for the type of work they did from Dec. 1, 2005, to Nov. 30, 2007.
Today was the deadline for the former contractors to pay workers the back wages.
Possible labor law violations by current contractors at the Vermont Service Center remain under investigation. "I will do everything I can to actively pursue a fair resolution so all workers get what they are owed," Sanders said.