WASHINGTON – The Labor Department regularly bungles its handling of complaints from workers who say their bosses are cheating them on overtime pay or committing other labor violations, an undercover investigation found.
The probe by the Government Accountability Office says agency officials often took too long to respond to complaints, failed to record them and, in one instance, lied about investigative work that was never performed.
“This investigation shows that the Department of Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn,” GAO investigator Gregory Kutz said in prepared testimony, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.
The House Education and Labor Committee plans to hold a hearing on the investigation today.
To test the agency’s intake process, GAO investigators posed as workers or companies on 10 occasions. Kutz said the agency mishandled nine out of 10 of the fake complaints.
In one of the complaints, a meatpacker reported children using heavy machinery at a California company. But four months later, officials had not begun to investigate and never even recorded the complaint in a database, as required.
Another case involved a caller, supposedly a convenience store clerk, who left seven telephone messages to complain about not receiving a paycheck. The Wage and Hour Division staff never returned the calls and never recorded the complaint.
The investigation follows up on a similar study last year that found the Labor Department ill-equipped to respond to worker complaints about labor violations.
The Wage and Hour Division is charged with enforcing federal wage, hour, child labor and family medical leave laws.
Democrats blame the Bush administration for using shoddy enforcement practices and reducing funding and staffing levels of the Wage and Hour Division. Republicans have called the investigations an attempt to score political points and believe more focus should be placed on staff mismanagement.
Hilda Solis, the new labor secretary, has pledged to step up enforcement at the agency.