Wage theft makes a television appearance
“You can’t call yourself the boss if you don’t (bleep)-ing pay them!”
-Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay
“Hotel Hell” premiered on Fox last night, bringing potty-mouthed celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay into the underworld of mismanaged hotels and their restaurants. On his other shows, Ramsay usually offers some enjoyable brain-rot as he formulaically transforms the mismanaged establishments and their hard-headed owners with cutting, blunt talk that culminates in the owner’s teary-eyed realization of the errors of his or her ways. A transformation of character results, usually aided by a free restaurant makeover thanks in part to our sponsors.
Instead, Monday’s episode (which ended in a cliff-hanger) was a textbook example of rampant wage theft at the Juniper Hill Inn, in Windsor, VT.
It’s a beautifully appointed hotel whose owners have spent a fortune on antiques and art for rooms but who don’t pay their own staff regularly.
There’s the almost-70-year-old waitress who made $48 in her last paycheck, the chef who quit after putting the restaurant’s purchases on her own credit card and didn’t get paid back, and an entire staff that rarely gets paid what they are owed on time, and who may not even be making the minimum wage.
When one of the owners declares that his employees don’t have to work there if they don’t like getting paid, Ramsay screams, “You disrespectful, disgusting man!”
Ramsay is outraged by the situation; we can only guess at the language he uses to describe his disgust because most of it was bleeped. He’s outraged, I’m outraged, and I hope the millions of viewers of last night’s show are as well.
I also hope that we stop tolerating not paying workers. It’s disgusting, disrespectful, and illegal. It’s also all too common.
Wage theft – the illegal underpayment or non-payment of workers’ wages – is on the rise and the scope of violations is substantial. Claims filed under the FLSA have increased by 400 percent over the last decade. And, as we have written before, data from the NC Dept. of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau, which administers the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act, shows that documented wage theft cost workers and their communities almost $4.7 million in just one year.
While these figures are significant, the numbers likely underestimate the occurrence of wage theft. Workers may fear retaliation, hang on to bad jobs because of a lack of other options, or have difficulties seeking redress.
North Carolinians have long believed that hard work should be rewarded with fair wages, and policy makers must ensure that our existing wage and hour laws are enforced and that unscrupulous businesses are held accountable.
**This post was written primarily by my fellow Justice Center staffer, Jessica Rocha.