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Nov. 19--Two hospitality operators in Southern California -- including a Days Inn franchisee in San Bernardino -- have agreed to pay a total of $183,468 in back wages and liquidated damages to 69 employees, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday.

Sahkar Hospitality Corp., of Corona, agreed to pay more than $123,678 in back wages and damages to 16 employees of Days Inn, located at 1386 E. Highland Avenue in San Bernardino, on grounds the housekeepers were being paid -- on average -- less than $5 per-hour from February 2010 through March 2013.

The minimum hourly wage in California is $8.

The other hotel operator of Miracle Springs Resort & Spa and Desert Hot Springs Spa and Hotel, both of Desert Hot Springs, which agreed to pay $59,790 to 53 employees for unpaid overtime from March 2010 through October 2012.

Daniel Pasquil, director of the department's wage and hour division's district office in West Covina, said evasive practices like these deprive vulnerable workers of an honest wage.

"These employees have worked long hours, and now, as a result, are being paid the wages they have rightfully earned,'' he said.

Calls placed to the Days Inn franchisee for comment were not returned.

Gene Grant, a manager at Miracle Springs, said the Department of Labor allegations against the Desert Hot Springs properties co-managed by Michael Bickford, primarily involved "isolated" incidents with a pool of workers who were originally hired as independent contractors.

"The DOL basically deemed all of these people arbitrarily as employees, and assessed wages related to it,'' Grant said.

Federal authorities said the Desert Hot Springs investigation revealed the two resorts, though managed by one entity, logged employee hours on separate payrolls. Had hours been combined, employee work weeks would have exceeded 40 hours, and been subject to paid overtime. Thirty-minute lunch breaks were also automatically deducted, if taken or not.

"These were incidental issues, not a general practice,'' Grant said, noting that five of the 53 workers tapped for back wages were hired as independent contractors to perform computer related or construction specialty services. The five workers, since reclassified as employees, will receive the bulk of the money, he added: "$48,000 in change."

In the Days Inn case, investigators learned housekeepers worked more than eight hours of overtime, but records did not reflect it. Record books noted wages of $8-per hour, but housekeepers actually earned $4 per cleaned room.

Sahkar Hospitality, also fined $4,928, owes workers back-pay that ranges from $201 to $12,050, Pasquil said.

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