The Hattiesburg American reported last week that the Department of Labor is investigating a Jackson business owned by Rosemary Barbour, wife of Hinds County Supervisor Charles Barbour, a nephew of Gov. Haley Barbour.
Alcatec LLC Chief Operating Officer Jim Oliver told the Hattiesburg American that the Labor Department is eying Alcatec after former employees complained the company stiffed them out of overtime pay. They claim the company ducked overtime by paying with a sliding scale. The more they worked, the less overtime they qualified for.
Alcatec got more than $28 million in FEMA contracts for post-Katrina work in 2005. The governor and FEMA deny that the company's no-bid contract had anything to do with Rosemary Barbour's connection to Haley Barbour, a Republican powerhouse with strong ties to the White House.
The company maintains thousands of FEMA trailers for coastal residents made homeless by Hurricane Katrina.
Mississippi AFL-CIO President Robert Shaffer said overtime cuts are a common practice in coastal construction projects since 2005.
"I can't verify that Alcatec engaged in it, but it wouldn't be hard for them to do it. Most workers are just happy to have a job and won't complain about a lot of bad practices going on. They just shut up and take it," Shaffer said.
Alcatec did not return calls to the JFP.
I don't advocate breaking the law, except in cases of civil disobedience, but violating federal overtime rules is really a victimless crime.
The relevant statute --the Fair Labor Standards Act-- is a depression-era relic. It was not, repeat not, intended to increase overall worker income, but rather to distribute jobs to a larger number of employees by making it more expensive to have a single employee work extra hours. Of course, people who already had jobs hated it; they desperately wanted to work more hours for the same pay, and the FLSA made that illegal.
The law has the same basic effect today, albeit to a lesser degree. These days, the flat cost of, e.g., health benefits often makes it more economical to have one guy work overtime, even if you have to pay him extra. But at the margin, lots of unskilled workers would happily take overtime at the regular rate, but can't. You could argue this spreads jobs to more people, which is a good thing from a welfare economics perspective, but with unemployment as low as it is, in many cases this just means spreading jobs to illegal immigrants or folks in Pakistan.