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Coworkers stick together to get paid

by Eric Ginsburg

by ERIC GINSBURG eric@yesweekly.com

It started with a phone call, but it ended with a picket. It was a Sunday evening, and Aimee Savard and Maggie Parker were both scheduled to work the next day at Sessions, a venue in Greensboro specializing in craft beers.

Owner Allen Tyndall called each of them saying they didn’t need to come in the next day and said that due to cash-flow problems, Sessions would open at noon instead of 7 a.m. for the rest of the summer.

Before the week was through, Savard and Parker had been fired, requested Tyndall pay them by Friday, pulled off a public demonstration and received all of their money.

Workers at Sessions had been discussing problems at work before the phone call, primarily the fact that, by their account, numerous employees were owed significant back wages. Both said they were owed money, most of it on previous paychecks, and they said they feared they would be fired and never paid.

Tyndall said there was a change in who handled his books and that he didn’t realize employees were owed money until they pointed it out.

“I did have a gap of pay for one week in the past two months and when it was brought to my attention by my employees, my current fiduciary manager made arrangements and paid everyone promptly and to those arrangements,” Tyndall said. “I always pay my workers on time. We made every attempt to pay those people on time and correctly.”

Parker and Savard disputed his claim, saying even when they brought it up Tyndall only offered to pay them on the next pay period instead of immediately.

“I knew that there was money being owed all over the place,” Parker said. “He had been late on paychecks before and I had a paycheck bounce. At the time I wasn’t in desperate need of money; it was just frustrating because it was sort of par for the course.”

Savard, who started on June 4, said she hadn’t been paid for the pay period ending June 15 and was only given a partial check on June 25. Tyndall was only willing to make limited comments on the record, but said Savard’s claim was “absolutely not true.” Parker said she was owed for the end of May and early June, the same time period Tyndall acknowledges an error. Collectively, the two said they were owed about $1,000.

“As a worker and someone who lives paycheck to paycheck, I can’t wait to be paid until whenever he feels like paying me,” Savard said. “People had been fired and not paid. It made me feel like I was completely disposable. I felt like I needed to react to defend myself to make sure I was paid.”

Parker and Savard both said they didn’t fill out any tax paperwork, and Tyndall admitted that all of his employees are 10-99 contract workers instead of W-2 employees. Elon Law professor and International Workers of the World member Eric Fink, who teaches labor and employment law, said Tyndall’s employees don’t qualify as contract workers and that what he was doing is illegal.

“In the case of a waiter or a bartender or a barista it’s inconceivable to think of a scenario where they aren’t dependent employees,” Fink said. “The biggest consequence is payroll taxes. The employer is supposed to withhold from your paycheck. You actually are being shortchanged because the employer isn’t making their contribution to Social Security. Employers have to pay into the state unemployment fund and the state workers compensation fund. You could call [the misclassification] tax evasion.”

The day after the phone calls, June 25, Parker and Savard gave Tyndall a letter detailing what dates they were owed for and the total amount and to request payment by that Friday. They said Tyndall swore and yelled at them to get out, calling their letter “petty.” Parker had been fired earlier in the day for having “bad habits” and Savard was taken off the schedule.

When Savard and Parker went in June 29 to try and pick up their checks they said Tyndall’s reaction was much the same. It wasn’t until he realized later that afternoon that they weren’t alone they said that Tyndall scrambled to pay them, including for the past due amounts.

Savard is a member of the Greensboro Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, and contacted the union for support. The IWW mobilized quickly in their defense, meeting multiple times that week to support the pair and to organize a public demonstration if they weren’t paid by June 29.

Savard said she received a phone call from Tyndall’s wife, the new fiduciary manager, who said she had found out about the protest and wanted to try to pay them that day.

“I was getting phone calls from Allen and his wife to try and resolve things and also sort of threatening that if we showed up he was going to call the cops,” Savard said.

After some back and forth, Savard said Tyndall’s wife told her she could only be paid that day if she drove to Tyndall’s home to pick up the check. Another union member went for her, but Tyndall’s wife failed to sign the check. According to Parker, Tyndall’s wife said she could pick up part of the money she was owed at Sessions that day and could receive the rest that Sunday. When they Parker and Savard went in to pick up Parker’s check and to request a signature on Savard’s at about 7 p.m. on the evening of June 29, about 20 IWW members and other supporters walked to the business behind them, lining the sidewalk in front with signs calling for full payment of owed wages.

During the week Tyndall e-mailed Savard and Parker and said he legally wasn’t required to pay them until Sunday, July 1, because employers are allowed to pay fired employees on the next regularly scheduled pay period. While Tyndall’s statement is accurate for hours worked since the last pay period on June 15, it does not apply to past due wages both said they were owed. Commenting generally on such cases, Fink and employment lawyer David Puryear said past due wages should be paid immediately.

“The basic law in North Carolina is that wages are due on the regular pay day so by implication if these are past due there isn’t any basis for the employer to fail to go ahead and pay wages that are past due to await the next regular pay day,” Puryear said.

In a call for support circulated online the night before the action, the Greensboro IWW said it wasn’t trying to turn customers away, but attempting to apply pressure to the owner through public awareness.

“Many workers at a local business have reported being underpaid or not paid at all over the past two months,” the release said. “Several employees have been fired and not paid substantial back wages — hundreds and hundreds of dollars — including three who were fired this week and current employees are still owed money.”

Savard said the public action directly led to their speedy payment and that the prospect of another ensured Parker would receive the rest of her money July 1. A statement posted on the Greensboro IWW’s Facebook page July 1 declared victory, saying both had been paid in full.

Larry Morse and his wife Claire found out about the action through the Peace & Justice Network.

“I went because I have a basic belief in supporting workers rights and employers not abusing people by underpaying or not paying people,” he said.

“It shouldn’t get to a point where an employer has to have a picket outside of the establishment.”

Parker, who is not a member of the union, said she was thankful that Savard had connections to a formal support network. Initially other coworkers supported them, even meeting with them to write the letter with demands.

One of their former co-workers told them he was getting a lawyer to try and recover his back wages. Savard said others encouraged them to do the protest, but said they were afraid if they participated they wouldn’t receive the money they were owed.

“I didn’t think it was going to be that easy, but I figured we would be paid because we were standing together,” Parker said. “I think if I went into it alone it would have been a lot harder to get Allen to pay me what he owed me.”

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