March 8, 2016 02:36 PM

U.S. Labor Department says popular boudin spot Billy’s went to great lengths to short-change workers; must pay $138K in back wages and penalties.

When’s the last time you read a lede like this from a federal agency's press release?

While Billy’s Boudin & Cracklins food preparers were mixing rice, meat and seasoning to make the company’s popular Cajun sausage, their employer was cooking the books.

That’s the opening line in a March 7 press release from the U.S. Department of Labor (which it seems is employing an ex-reporter who can tell a good story), and the rest of the release is pretty astounding too, laying out how this popular boudin spot with locations in Krotz Springs, Scott and Opelousas went to great lengths to short-change its workers of overtime pay.

Instead of paying workers the overtime wages they earned, the business owners, William "Billy" Frey II and his wife Patsy, were using those unpaid wages to lower their costs and increase profits, investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found.

“Denying employees their rightfully-earned wages is not only wrong, it’s illegal,” Betty Campbell, regional administrator for the division in the Southwest, said in the press release. “This industry employs some of the most vulnerable workers we see. Shorting these workers makes it even more difficult for them to make ends meet, and gives the employer an unfair advantage over its competitors. Cost-saving measures must never include breaking the law at the expense of workers’ livelihood.”

The division’s New Orleans District Office investigation determined that the employer violated the overtime, minimum wage and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Specifically, the employer:

• Paid employees in cash, at straight time, when they worked more than 40 hours in a week, rather than paying them legally-required overtime, at time and a half their regular wages, for those hours.
• Paid employees for their first 40 hours of work each week on its payroll from one location, but paid for any overtime hours on the payroll from another of its locations, at straight time. Employees paid in this manner never actually worked at second locations. Their overtime hours were simply shifted to another set of books to disguise the fact that overtime had been earned.

As a result of the investigation, Billy’s owners are paying $112,724 in back wages to 102 employees and $25,750 in civil money penalties due to the “willful nature of the violations.” Additionally, the employer signed an agreement with the division which requires the enterprise to:

• Prove it is currently in compliance and agree to comply with the FLSA in the future.
• Provide general notice of the FLSA protections to its employees.
• Provide an FLSA Handy Reference Guide link to all current and future employees and maintain evidence of such notification in personnel files.
• Train supervisors and managers on FLSA requirements at least twice per year.

The enterprise consists of three Louisiana-based establishments offering retail grocery and prepared food items: Billy’s Mini Mart Inc. doing business as Billy’s Mini Mart and Diner in Krotz Springs; Billy’s Boudin & Cracklins LLC doing business as Billy’s Boudin & Cracklins in Scott; and Ray’s LLC doing business as Ray’s in Opelousas.

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers must maintain accurate time and payroll records.

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