BY DANA GENTRY, Nevada Current
A company that performs deep cleaning for Las Vegas Strip resorts has engaged in wage theft for at least two decades by splitting workers’ hours between commonly-owned companies in an effort to avoid paying overtime, according to the company’s former manager as well as former employees whose complaints are being investigated by the US Department of Labor.
“If I worked 120 hours in two weeks, they would pay 80 hours and up to 10 hours overtime on one check,“ says Henry Rocha, a former employee of Commercial On-Site Cleaning (COS).
Paycheck stubs provided to the Nevada Current reveal the remaining 30 or so hours owed to Rocha were paid in straight time from one of several companies with similar names, including Commercial On-Site Drapery and Commercial On-Site Cleaning.
Under federal law companies with common ownership can be considered as one for the purpose of determining whether employees are eligible for overtime. All hourly wage earners are eligible to receive overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week.
The Department of Labor confirms its Wage and Hour Division is investigating. “This is an open case and because of it we cannot provide any further information or details at this time,” spokesman Jose Carnevali said via email.
The companies, owned by Eric Cramer and his mother Fay, have been in business since 1989. according to Secretary of State records. They hold or have held contracts with a variety of resorts, including MGM Grand, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Encore, Resorts World, the Palms, and Circa, according to former employees.
Cramer, reached by phone Tuesday, said he would call back but has not. His mother, Fay, an officer in several of the corporations, blamed the investigation on a former employee, Shana Opp, who “wouldn’t let us look at the books. I offered her $200,000 to stay and she still left. She’s the one who reported this.”
Opp, reached by phone, said she was unaware of the investigation, denied any role in reporting it to authorities or to being the mastermind behind the scheme.
“I was in charge of the day-to-day, but they have a certified public accountant,” she said. Opp, a Black woman, says Cramer gave her 1% of the business and put her in charge in order to qualify for contracts available to minority-owned businesses.
She acknowledged employees were paid from two companies to avoid paying overtime.
“The bottom line is that’s his idea,” she said, referring to Eric Cramer. “And that stuff was going on before I started working there.”
Opp said Cramer insisted that employees sign a document acknowledging they may be paid by two companies as a means of avoiding liability.
The difference between regular and the correct overtime pay for Rocha, who earned $15 an hour when he was terminated in 2022 after 11 years, could amount to more than $200 a paycheck.
Former employees say workers who may be undocumented were targeted by Cramer for wage theft. Attempts by business owners to avoid paying overtime through related companies are common, according to experts. However, undocumented workers are often too fearful to come forward.
“I’d say out of 100 employees, about 10 were being paid that way,” Opp said. “But I was there 16 years, and it was going on before I got there.”
‘Giving a little bit and then also taking it away’
Juan, who asked to be identified only by his first name, worked at Commercial On-Site for 17 years. He says he was paid what he earned for the first year and a half to two years. After that, like Rocha, he received 80 hours regular pay and a maximum of ten hours overtime on one check. On another check from a different company, Juan received regular pay for what should have been his remaining overtime hours.
He says fear of retaliation and time invested in his job kept him from leaving.
Time records shared with the Current indicate Juan routinely worked from 7:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and again the same day from 5:15 p.m. until 2 a.m A time card from February 2022 with a total of 114 hours bears a handwritten note that says “80 reg 10 overtime.” Another copy of the same time card has a hand-written notation indicating “24 reg.” Two paycheck stubs from different companies – one for 80 regular hours and 10 overtime, and another for 24 regular hours, reflect the notes on the time card.
The former employees describe an indoctrination-like process in which they were originally paid what they earned, but eventually exploited, intimated and subjected to retaliation.
Juan says he believes paying workers just a fraction of the overtime they earned was the company’s way of keeping workers hanging on by “giving a little bit and then also taking it away.” He and others say on a handful of occasions they were awarded pay raises, which were later rescinded.
Juan says he was fired and told he was “such a good employee” they would rehire him immediately, but at a lower wage.
Rocha says on the occasions he did speak up, he was promised a raise that never materialized or was granted and later rescinded.
“That happened at least four times,” Rocha said. “Management said there wasn’t enough money coming in the company.”
“I needed the money for my family. I’m a single parent,” Rocha said when asked why he put up so long with being shortchanged. He says the company retaliated to complaints by cutting his hours. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to leave. I figured that if I got another job, I would have to start all over again. I live check by check. I was doing it for my kids.”
“When On-Site got the contract at Circa, I worked there for three months, seven days a week, working eight-hour and 16-hour shifts,” Rocha said during an interview with other former employees Tuesday at Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center. “After three months they transferred me to Resorts World because they got the contract and I was going to be working a second shift from 3 to 11.”
Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employees who work more than ten hours in a 24-hour period are eligible for overtime. Rocha says he was never paid more than 10 hours of overtime in a pay period, regardless of how much he worked.
“I’m hesitant to put a number on it, but I think we’re talking in the millions,” said Bliss Requa-Trautz, executive director of Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, which filed a third-party complaint in February with the DOL on behalf of current and former workers. The complaint is confidential, but workers say they are being updated monthly by the DOL.
Wages can be recovered going back three years from the beginning of the investigation.
Opp, COS’s former manager, says Cramer viewed the alleged scheme as providing “a second job” to his workers, only without the overtime they were due.
Fay Cramer maintains that Opp is behind the alleged wage theft, and not she and her son. But she acknowledges that as the owners, they are ultimately responsible.
“I have treated my employees fabulous,” she said.
This story was originally published by Nevada Current and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.
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