|By Jeff Swiatek, The Indianapolis
StarMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 12, 2012--A union-backed wage-and-hour lawsuit by 16 Indianapolis hotel workers against a national staffing company has been settled.
The workers contended they weren't fully paid for housekeeping and other work they did at nine area hotels for Atlanta-based Hospitality Staffing Solutions, which has an Indianapolis office.
Workers' claims amounted to several hundred to several thousand dollars apiece in the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Indianapolis in January and wasn't scheduled to go to trial until next October.
Settlement terms are confidential, said Jeffrey Macey, an attorney for the workers.
In a statement, HSS said it wants to pay its employees "for every minute of their hard work. While these employees' claims (of not being paid for time worked) could not be verified, the company has resolved their claims in good faith and in order to avoid the expense and distraction of litigation."
Workers alleged numerous violations of labor laws by HSS, including telling them to work off the clock, requiring them to clean a certain number of rooms even if it meant finishing on breaks or after they clocked out and not paying overtime for work done after the normal workday. The lawsuit sought payment from HSS of double the wages owed, plus legal fees.
The nine hotels, which include some of the largest in the city, were originally named as defendants in the case but were later dropped.
All of the workers are Latinos and many don't speak English, which the Unite Here union said made them vulnerable to being exploited on the job.
Former HSS worker Eva Sanchez, the first-named plaintiff in the case, said through an interpreter that "I am very content, very satisfied with the terms of the settlement. By speaking out, we made known some of the abuses we felt (we) were experiencing." Sanchez, 30, who has taken a job as an organizer for Unite Here and no longer does hotel work, said that since the lawsuit was filed, several large hotels where the plaintiffs worked have given raises and better benefits to their housekeeping staff and food service workers.
Only two of the 16 plaintiffs in the case are still working at hotels, though all still live in the metro area, Sanchez said.
Unite Here assisted the lawsuit by introducing the workers to the attorney, Macey, and offering them transportation and interpreter services, said Sarah Lyons, a community organizer for the New York-based union.
The union has tried unsuccessfully for more than three years to organize workers at three Indianapolis hotels: the Hyatt Regency, Westin and Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing. No Indianapolis hotels are unionized, but in 2011, more than 200 cafeteria workers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and food service workers at Indianapolis International Airport agreed to join Unite Here and are now working under union agreements, Lyons said.
Phil Ray, general manager of the Marriott Indianapolis Downtown, said his hotel stopped working with HSS earlier this year because its policy made it too difficult for the Marriott to permanently hire workers the staffing agency supplies after they've been on the job for six months.
Ray said his hotel gave its housekeeping staff raises of 7 percent to 10 percent this year, and other hotels have given recent raises as well.
"Supply and demand has pushed that (wage rate) up," he said.
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