After a recent investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has recovered a total of $399,851 in back wages and liquidated damages for 49 workers of Supermercado Carrera, a family-owned Mexican-American supermarket in Aurora, Ill.
Division investigators found that the supermarket’s operator paid several employees straight-time wages for overtime and shortchanged them of the legally required time and one-half premium for more than 40 hours in a workweek. Supermercado Carrera also incorrectly classified some employees as exempt from overtime. The division indicated that these actions violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.
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In addition to $199,925 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages, Supermercado Carrera also paid $734 in civil money penalties that the division assessed after investigators found that a minor-aged employee worked beyond permitted hours.
“The nearly $400,000 in back wages and damages our investigation recovered will make a significant difference in the lives of 49 workers and their families,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Tom Gauza in Chicago. “Typically, small grocers employ low-wage and vulnerable workers likely unaware of their basic rights to the federal minimum wage and overtime pay. Workers in the U.S. have the right to be paid their full earned wages.”
In fiscal year 2022, the Wage and Hour Division’s office in Chicago recovered $6.4 million in back wages and $647,000 in liquidated damages for more than 6,400 workers. Most commonly, the division found violations of overtime and minimum wage. In the first four months of fiscal year 2023, the office has recovered $1.6 million in back wages and $814,000 in liquidated damages for 1,182 workers.
Although the federal minimum wage remains $7.25 an hour – the same rate for the last 13 years or so – higher thresholds are now in place in much of the country. As of Jan. 1, the minimum wage has gone up in 23 states and Washington, D.C. The dollar amount ranges between $9.95 and $15.74. Smaller and independent businesses are trying to navigate the higher-wage climate as they are already working to maintain margins in an inflationary era. Several small and independent grocers contend that although a wage increase is needed, a doubling of that rate harms their businesses and affect access to foods in underserved areas.