2009-01-23 / Top Stories

Workers: Call-A-Head Not Number One At Paying

Lawsuit Alleges Payment For Fewer Hours Than Job Took
By Howard Schwach

Dozens of workers have filed a lawsuit against a Broad Channel company for allegedly forcing them to work up to 15 hours a day but only paying for 10 hours.

The workers say that portable potty giant Call-A-Head, which advertises that it is "Number one at picking up number two," violated state labor laws by paying a flat rate based on ten hours work while most routes dictated by the company took up to 15 hours to complete.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in Brooklyn Federal Court on Tuesday.

One pump truck operator who spent six years with the company told Daily News reporter Nicole Bode that "[Owner Charlie Howard] paid you on the basis of ten hours a day. If you can get your job done, get it done. If you go over, he doesn't care."

The lawsuit demands back wages for every hour of overtime that went unpaid since July 17, 2002, which is the statute of limitations deadline.

The suit also alleges that the company forced workers to punch in, but did not allow them to punch out in an attempt to stifle proof of the extra work hours put in by employees.

State labor law requires employers to pay non-exempt employees, such as those at Call-A-Head, overtime for more than 40 hours work and to pay for each hour actually worked.

Howard, who is the sole owner of the company that provides portable potty service to venues throughout the tristate area, has had his share of legal problems in past years.

In 2004, he paid a $100,000 fine and $10,000 restitution to the city to clear up charges that he fouled the wetlands area around his Broad Channel headquarters and that he used "unmetered water" to clean his portable potties, in effect stealing water from the city.

The fines were part of a plea agreement with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown to stop prosecution on charges that he fouled the wetlands, used unmetered water from January of 1999 to January of 2003, and any larceny charges that could be brought as a result of that theft of water.

The plea agreement took the form of an "Alford Plea," a form of pleading in criminal court in which the defendant does not admit to the act and asserts his innocence, but admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty.

According to the signed agreement, the payment of the fine and the restitution "is not an admission of wrongdoing by Call-A-Head, but is being agreed upon to end the ongoing investigation."

In addition to the fine and restitution, the company had to hire a private, independent monitor to check its property for compliance with the agreement up to five times each month.

According to the workers' attorney, Justin Zeller, approximately 45 employees had signed on to join the lawsuit by press time.

"Hardworking men and women who are going to do jobs such as those that nobody really wants to do, such as cleaning refuse, they don't deserve to be taken advantage of," Zeller said.

While company officials did not return calls from The Wave for comment, a company spokesperson told Bode, "There's no basis or merit to the lawsuit brought against the company." In this Wave file photo, investigators from the Department of Investigation and the Department of Environmental Protection raided Call-AHead in December of 2003 and issued four summonses to Charles Howard, the company's owner. Now, he is being sued by more than 40 employees who say that he did not pay mandated overtime.

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