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Western Pennsylvania's Hotel Industry Being Probed for Compliance
with Pay Laws by the Department of Labor

By Joe Napsha, The Pittsburgh Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 17, 2009--Western Pennsylvania's hotel and motel industry is being investigated by a federal agency on whether it is complying with minimum wage and overtime pay laws, as well as recordkeeping and child labor laws, the Department of Labor said Monday.

The initiative by the Labor Department's wage and hour division in Pittsburgh is aimed at getting the industry to comply with regulations governing employment and pay "to ensure employees are protected and compensated in accordance with the law," the agency said.

In the past five years, Labor Department investigations into the region's hotel and motel industry has resulted in 690 workers being paid more than $223,000 in back wages, said spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins.

She declined to comment on any of the hotels and motels that paid back wages, saying that investigation is closed.

There are about 192 hotels with about 21,750 rooms in the Pittsburgh region, said Jeff Higley, spokesman for Smith Travel Research of Hendersonville, Tenn., which tracks the nation's hotel industry.

"Companies that do not pay their workers full compensation and otherwise fail to comply with the law are liable for back wages and may be assessed liquidated damages and civil money penalties," said John DuMont, a director of the department's Pittsburgh wage and hour division.

The investigation is being conducted as part of the division's enforcement initiatives and was not prompted by a particular complaint, Hawkins said. She would not say how many hotels and motels are being investigated.

The Greater Pittsburgh Hotel Association, a trade group based in Moon, counts 60 hotels among its membership, according to its Web site. Rick Strunk, executive vice president of the association, and Tom Hardy, president of the association's board and general manager of the Sheraton Station Square, could be reached for comment.

"We're glad that the Department of Labor is stressing compliance with the laws that were designed to protect workers in all industries, including the hospitality industry," said the Jennifer Blatz, a spokeswoman for Unite Here Local 57, which represents about 1,500 hospitality workers in the Pittsburgh region, including workers at the city's largest hotels.

The common violations include failure to pay for all hours, failure to pay overtime premium to workers and misclassifying salaried workers as being exempt from overtime provisions, without regard to their pay or the duties performed, the Labor Department said.

In some cases, underage employees were found to be working in violation of the child labor rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Joe Napsha can be reached via e-mail or at 724-836-5252.


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