Lumberton, NC: Blake Canady worked at Lowe's from 1998 to 2001 as department manager. He estimates that Lowe's owes him about $10,000 in unpaid overtime.
"We complained to management and it was always 'being looked into' but nothing changed," says Canady.
"I worked in the hardware and tools department and upon arriving at the store every morning, we would have to display about 50 grills and 40 lawnmowers - they all had to be chained up. We were never allowed to log in until everyone at the store had arrived. Every day we had to work 45 minutes without getting paid. And then about 25-30 employees had to line up and clock in," he says. This meant that Canady and others worked about five hours overtime, without pay, every week.
"Then, at the end of our shift when we clocked out, the doors would lock and we couldn't get out. We would have to stand there and wait until management finished their paperwork -- nobody could leave until the safe was locked and computers shut down. We would just stand there every night for 30-45 minutes talking - we couldn't go outside. Of course nobody could smoke. I didn't think it was in my job description to stand and wait, worrying about their safe and computer system on my time.
I lost count of how many times we complained to management and to the district managers. Nobody would go to the labor board because they were afraid of retaliation. Lowe's is known for firing people who complain. I know for a fact that at Store # 754 in Fort Lauderdale, 20 employees were fired for complaining about being overworked and underpaid. As they left, 20 new employees were ready and available to start work.
As a manager, if someone didn't show up on time, usually a part-time night employee, we would have to stay to fill that position. Without a break. We were entitled to three x15 minute breaks and one hour lunch during a ten-hour shift. That never happened.
One more thing: we used to pull 'overnights' to clean up the store. They often have a rat-infestation problem due to bird seed, grass seed etc. We would close at 9pm and leave the next day anywhere from 9am - 11am. During this time we would only get two x 15 minute breaks and ½ hour lunch. We couldn't leave earlier because we had to put everything back into place and couldn't ask anyone else to help - they had their own work to do and everyone was maxed out. All departments were probably four people short.
And it is still going on today. Talk to any employee and chances are they will complain about being understaffed and overworked. I talked to some people at the Lowe's here in North Carolina, Store #739, and they have the same complaints as I did years ago.
Many employees at Lowe's ( including Blake Canady) are paid on a "variable overtime" (also known as Chinese Overtime) system. They receive a weekly base salary for hours worked and in addition, they are paid overtime for hours in excess of 40 hours a week at one-half of their "variable" hourly rate (the hourly rate being their weekly "base salary" divided by the total hours worked each week).
Trouble is, Lowe's benefits from this system at the detriment of the employee, because it results in an employee's hourly overtime rate decreasing if he works more hours in a week.
"Chinese overtime was something we talked about at work and I don't know who made it up, but you were really getting paid about 1/3rd in overtime of what you were due. In other words, I worked 58 hours per week but got paid for, at the most, 44 hours per week, 4 hours of which were time and a half," says Canady. And he rarely saw his commission due. "Some weeks I was owed $500 in commission sales but it was seldom reflected in my pay check."
How is the base salary calculated? This is tricky. It may not include all bonuses or commissions which many employees receive regularly. According to federal law,
ALL compensation paid to the employee, whether "base salary" or "bonus compensation" or "commissions" must typically be included in calculating the proper overtime rate.
"This is what I want to say to Lowe's," says Canady: "You have unfair labor practices and unfair pay. Some of the people that were not involved in the recent lawsuit settlement need to be reimbursed for overtime and the district managers have to relinquish some of their control. I think that is why a lot of complaints got shelved so quickly. I didn't know anything about an overtime lawsuit against Lowe's until I saw it on your website. I was floored! I just hope I'm not too late. Nobody should have to work for free."