Statement by Senator Bernie Sanders at Vermont Service Center Meeting

Let me begin by thanking Carl Smith, the Deputy Regional Director of the Wage and Hour Administration based in Philadelphia and George Rioux the District Director of the Wage and Hour Administration based in both Boston and Manchester for being with us today.

I would also like to thank Marty Scanlon, the lead investigator on this case who I understand many of you know well for the excellent work he has done.

The work that you perform for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is extremely important for this country, and you should be commended for the work that you do.       

In my view, it is vital that employee morale at the Vermont Service Center is strong, worker productivity increases, and experienced employees stay on the job as long as possible. 

At the very least, we need to make sure that all of you are paid what you are legally entitled to receive under the law. 

Thankfully, slowly but surely, we are beginning to see this happen.

As you know, on September 30th the Department of Labor announced a settlement with SI International to pay over $1.5 million in back wages to 272 Vermont Service Center workers for misclassifying employees during November of 2005 to November of 2007.

And, on October 8th, the Labor Department also announced a settlement with CSC to pay over $1.45 million in back wages to 237 Vermont Service Center workers for similar misclassifications.

While these investigations took longer than I had wished, I am pleased that justice is finally beginning to prevail and many of you are starting to receive the back pay that you rightfully deserve.

What these two cases prove is that when workers stand up for their rights, as all of you have done, you can succeed.

What happens far too often in situations like these is that workers get afraid.  Afraid of losing their jobs.  Afraid of having their wages and benefits cut even further.  And, employers too often get away with wage theft, and other labor violations.

You were not afraid.  You knew that something was terribly wrong and you were not going to take it lying down.

You filed wage and hour complaints with Marty Scanlon. 

You called, e-mailed, and wrote to my office to complain. 

How many workers do you think even know how to make a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division when their rights are being violated, let alone their United States Senator?  Too many do not.

And, it is sad to say that even when workers stood up for their rights, the federal government has not always been on their side, and justice has not prevailed.
Let me just read to you an article that appeared in the New York Times, headlined "Labor Agency is Failing Workers Report Says."

"The federal agency charged with enforcing minimum wage, overtime and many other labor laws is failing in that role, leaving millions of workers vulnerable, Congressional auditors have found.
The Government Accountability Office found that the agency, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, had mishandled 9 of the 10 cases brought by a team of undercover agents posing as aggrieved workers.
“This investigation clearly shows that Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn,” the report said."
That was then.  Most of these problems occurred under the Administration of President George W. Bush.

We now have another Administration led by President Barack Obama and a new Secretary of Labor: Hilda Solis.  Although she could not be here today, Secretary Solis wrote the following letter.

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.

I asked Carl and George to come here today to discuss the SI International and CSC cases so that you have a better understanding of this matter and can ask them any questions you may have regarding these payments.

As you know, there is still an ongoing investigation into possible Service Contract violations with the current contractor at the Vermont Service Center.

Unfortunately, Carl and George cannot talk about this investigation because it is still pending and has not been resolved.  Therefore, I would ask everyone to keep your questions limited to the SI International and CSC cases that have already been completed.

But, my hope is that this investigation is resolved as quickly as possible so that all of you receive the pay that you are legally entitled to receive.