Even though the United States Census Bureau found one-third of American laborers worked more than 40 hours a week in the year 2000, not everyone is being compensated for their toils.
Ten current and former Pep Boys employees in Tennessee, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have filed a federal lawsuit, accusing the auto parts chain of altering employees' time cards to avoid paying overtime.
"They were actually having us shave time off the clock," recalled lead plaintiff Rosann Wilks, 27, a former assistant manager who worked at Pep Boys for two years in Massachusetts and a year in Tennessee.
And Wal-Mart is facing dozens of state and federal lawsuits in 30 states, in which employees say the retail giant saves money by pressuring employees to work off-the-clock.
"We had to go back to the time clock, clock-out at 7 o'clock, but then come back and keep working," said Heather Huynh, a former Wal-Mart pharmacy employee in California.
Even at Monster.com, an employment Web site, former employee Linda Lyon says jobs are called "administrative" to avoid overtime pay.
"They paid me for only 40 hours a week," she said, "but I worked regularly well over 40 hours. The entire department did."
It's Settled; Lawsuits Pay Off
The Fair Labor Standards Act says overtime work requires pay of one-and-a-half times regular wages. But a growing number of workers say companies are breaking or finding ways around the law.
"It seems to be almost a snowball effect," said Greg McGillivary, whose Washington D.C.-based firm Woodley & McGillivary represents the Pep Boys plaintiffs. "Employees are becoming more and more aware of their rights under the law."
There have been several recent large settlements. Starbucks, for example, agreed to pay a group of California store managers $18 million to settle an overtime lawsuit. And Radio Shack is shelling out nearly $30 million to settle a lawsuit by 1,300 former and current California store managers arguing for overtime compensation.
The Wal-Mart case is potentially one of the biggest. "The way that Wal-Mart tried to be competitive and keep their prices low was by taking advantage of their employees," said Huynh.
Wal-Mart says the complaints represent "isolated incidents" and "managers who violate this policy are subject to immediate disciplinary action, including dismissal." They added, "We may not be perfect, but our commitment to pay our associates for their work is genuine."
Pep Boys says they have yet to be served in this lawsuit but intends to "investigate this matter further." But former Wal-Mart and Pep Boys employees say there is a strong incentive for cheating workers.
"It reflects on managers' bonuses," said Wilks. "If the manager has less payroll, they get a better bonus."
Now workers are serving notice that their bosses and their companies will no longer be allowed to make extra profits at their expense.