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Chevron forced to pay workers in California and elsewhere $1.5 million

Last week, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a news release announcing that three subsidiaries of Chevron Corporation - one in California and two in Texas - must pay $1.5 million in back wages and penalties to 750 of its employees. The subsidiaries, it was determined, were acting in direct violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which provides protection to workers with regard to minimum wage and overtime pay.

For Chevron, the problems started when the DOL's San Francisco office found that employees were not being paid for time spent in briefings during shift changes. Yet these briefings, in which workers received instructions for what their shifts would entail, were an integral part of the job and employees deserved payment for their time. Chevron will now have to issue checks to those workers, and they will also receive damages for the missing wages. In all, the workers will each get roughly $2,000.

How the FLSA came to be

"I wish you could do something to help us girls....We have been working in a sewing factory... and up to a few months ago we were getting our minimum pay of $11 a week... Today the 200 of us girls have been cut down to $4 and $5 and $6 a week."

Those words were written by a young girl to Franklin D. Roosevelt while he was campaigning for reelection in the mid-1930s. The president remarked, "Something has to be done about the elimination of child labor and long hours and starvation wages."

Such complaints, and the deplorable working conditions they described, led to the FLSA's creation in 1938. At the time, it established a minimum wage and a limit on the number of hours that can be worked in a standard workweek. It also set standards for child labor and overtime pay. In subsequent decades, amendments have been added to address interstate commerce, equal pay, discrimination, migrant and farm workers, and record keeping.

Overtime without pay?

Since 2012, the DOL's Wage and Hour Division has conducted 1,000 investigations and recovered more than $41.5 million in back wages for more than 29,000 employees. This has been the result of an initiative focused particularly on oil and gas related industries, where violations are common; the structures and business models of businesses in these industries lend themselves to such violations.

In the future, Chevron has agreed to pay its workers at least 15 minutes of overtime pay for the briefings, and more if the meetings extend for more than 15 minutes.

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