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Resort firms cited in student-worker probe

Press & Sun Bulletin  |  March 10, 2008  |  Share  |  Source article

ALBANY -- The young workers came from Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, spending their own money to work in summer resort towns. Many of them wound up cheated out of wages and overtime pay, working jobs that violated child labor laws or docked pay to cover room and board.

A state investigation last year found that nearly 200 foreign workers were cheated by several companies in an upstate resort town. The state ordered the businesses to repay the employees, plus interest, and pay fines. Some of the companies are appealing the ruling, and about 180 students who worked for the companies between 2002 and 2006 are still owed $103,000, according to state Department of Labor records.

"Forcing these international students to work overtime without pay is criminal," said Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, a human rights organization. "These students go back as ambassadors to their countries. What they'll have to say about the United States is that this is a nasty experience." Only 15 workers have been repaid by Lake George area hotels and businesses named in the Labor Department probe, according to documents The Associated Press obtained through the state Freedom of Information Law. The state Department of Labor said S.J. Garcia's in Lake George owed $42,745.13 in unpaid wages and fines . Ramada Express in Queensbury owed $14,209.26, and Quality Inn and Econo Lodge & Suites in Queensbury jointly owed $46,505.22.

So far, the agency has successfully contacted and repaid three of four former employees of Taste of Poland restaurant, which paid $4,206.88 in back pay and fines. SJ Garcia's agreed to repay 12 former employees a total of $3,020.39 for paying below minimum wage, but none of those checks has gone through, according to state labor officials.

The companies argue that the students, or the federal government, had agreed to housing deductions, or th e dates of employment were incorrectly listed.

Sam Bhatti, owner of the Quality Inn in Glens Falls, said he won't arrange housing for international workers anymore
"I have a right to fight back," he said.

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