Worker Group Sues DoL Over Employee Names

January 19, 2006 ( - The ongoing battle between the US Labor Department and a workers' rights group over getting employees back pay awards has now moved into the courts.

The Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Justice filed suit against the Labor Department alleging violation of the federal Freedom of Information Act in its refusal to release the names of 95,000 workers owed $32 million in back pay whom the government can not find, the Associated Press reported.

The suit demands of the names of workers whom the Labor Department has been unable to locate after they won government settlements for pay owed for overtime and other work. Obtaining the information would not only “alert workers of money that is rightfully theirs, but it could encourage more workers to report wage theft and other wage violations,” said Kim Bobo, Worker Justice executive director.

On the other side of the issue, one federal official insisted the government had a good record in trying to find the affected employees. Al Robinson, deputy administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, said, “We have a strong enforcement record, and nearly all back wages that we recover are in fact paid to employees who are due the back wages.

We successfully work with the employers that we investigate. We use co-employees to find employees due back wages. Through press releases and other publicizing of cases, we are able to locate employees.”

The workers’ group says it helped the Labor Department in 2002 create a searchable database to locate the employees, many of them low-wage workers who drift from job to job. But in 2004, after the workers’ group helped develop the Web site, Labor officials refused to release the information, citing privacy concerns, the group said.

On Wednesday, Robinson said, “We’re willing to work with this group within the legal constraints to which we are subject.”

Under federal law, money that is unclaimed or isn’t otherwise disbursed for three years from the time of settlement goes to the federal government.

The Worker Justice lawsuit is here .