Hotel Workers Sue re: Low Pay, Inhumane Conditions, No Overtime Pay

Four hotel housekeepers have filed a lawsuit Friday, alleging that two downtown hotels, owned by a notable real estate investor, have paid them below minimum wage for years, and forced them to work 11 hours a day, six days a week for very low pay, under inhumane working conditions.

These two downtown Nashville hotels face a federal lawsuit for mistreating their employees. A group of current and former hotel housekeepers filed the suit against Rajesh Aggarwal, who owns the Best Western Music Row and The Comfort Inn Downtown on Demonbreun.

Through an interpreter, Hernandez told NewsChannel 5 about an alleged incident with his supervisor. He worked as a houseman at both the Best Western Music Row and the Comfort Inn across the street.

“I started working there, and I was paid $50 a day, so I thought this has got to be eight hours a day,” Hernandez said. “Then it would turn out I would come in at 8 a.m., and I would work until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. when the work was done.”

He said working 10-11 hours a day was the norm, six days a week without overtime pay; making a lot less than the $7.25 per hour minimum wage.

The lawsuit says Hernandez, like other workers, was never required to record his workday hours. Instead, he was paid $50 a day, regardless how many hours he worked.

Hernandez says that it’ also common practice by management to mistreat employees. He recalls one time when it became physical. “She pushed me and hit me in the face and nothing was done about it,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez was fired and it wasn’t until months later that he learned about the Workers’ Dignity.

Hernandez turned to the labor rights group, Workers’ Dignity, for help. Recently, he and three others filed a class action lawsuit against the two hotels. According to the lawsuit, housekeepers were paid as little as $3.50 an hour and could work up to 14 hours a day without a break.

“They want federal minimum wage,” Worker’s Dignity spokeswoman, Brenda Perez said. “They want a lunch break, you know, pretty basic things.”

“We want Nashville to speak for itself to say this kind of thing is not going to be tolerated in our city,” Brenda Perez with Workers’ Dignity said. “Our city that’s known for hospitality, how could these injustices happen at these hotels where we have tourists coming, enjoying their stay?”

They said somebody needed to speak up. “The only way we’re going to stop these injustices is if we come together,” Hernandez said. “And I would really like to see the Nashville community come and support those who are taking a stand.”

“I am not asking for anything extra. I am only asking for what is fair,” Hernandez, 29, who worked in construction in Los Angeles before moving to Nashville months ago. The worst part, Hernandez said, is that management “didn’t do anything to stop it.”

Rajesh Aggarwal, 53, of Brentwood, the franchise owner of both hotels, has quietly amassed a real estate portfolio of hotels and apartment buildings over the years. Recently, his investment group, Global Mall Partnership, purchased a considerable piece of the long-struggling Hickory Hollow Mall for $1 million.

Advocates at Workers’ Dignity say that cheating workers out of pay is prevalent in low-wage industries.

Most of the housekeepers employed by the hotel are Hispanic, single women, according to the group. They were often paid a salary of between $650 and 676 every 15 days, and the workers were sometimes given just one day off per week, as stated in the lawsuit. It was common for employees to work 14 hours per day.

The lawsuit claims several violations of the Federal Labor Standards Act.

Immigration advocates say wage abuse against migrant workers cuts across several industries in the Nashville area.

“In the absence of a union in their workplace, many unscrupulous employers abuse workers from other countries who aren’t familiar with what their rights are in this country,” said Stephanie Teatro, advocacy director at Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

Greg Adkins, president of the Tennessee Hospitality Association said, “The hospitality industry in Nashville is one of the hottest areas in the nation. Our hoteliers strive to abide by all state and federal laws.”

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor found widespread wage pay abuse among the hotel and motel industry in Tennessee. Federal officials discovered 34 hotels across the state, which together were fined $14,552 in civil penalties and required to pay out more than $170,000 in back wages for labor violations.

The Tennessee Department of Labor estimates that there are approximately 20,000 employed in cleaning and maintenance jobs statewide. Among them, housekeepers in the state, of which there are more than 8,000, are paid about $9.86 an hour, average.

“The defendants use fear and intimidation to control their employees,” the lawsuit says, adding that one worker was asked to clean a floor six times. That incident “is exemplary of an ongoing custom, pattern or practice of abuse” at the hotels.

What do you think about the way these employees are being treated by the hotel owners? Why are they so abusive? How will the hotels run without employees?

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