FAIRMONT PITTSBURGH HOTEL
by Leah Samuel
If you’ve stayed at the Heritage Hills Resort in York while touring Amish country, toasted newlyweds at the Avalon Hotel in Erie, or settled in for a weekend of pampering at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in the Laurel Highlands, chances are the person who made your bed, poured your champagne or washed your towels wasn’t being paid minimum wage.
In fact, the state ranks fourth in the country — behind Texas, Alabama and Florida — for the number of hotels breaking labor laws, according to a PublicSource analysis.
York, Erie and Pittsburgh had the highest number of violations by their hotels, with Farmington, Lancaster and Harrisburg coming in behind them.
These workingmen and women, who may have few skills to find another job, are often reluctant to talk about their situations, as PublicSource discovered after making many attempts to reach them.
“These workers are subject to retaliation from employers, and some hotels have non-disclosure agreements,” explained Mackenzie Smith, an organizer and executive board member for UNITE HERE Local 57, which represents hotel workers in Pittsburgh.
George Ference, regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division in the Northeast, said the industry “accounts for a disproportionate share of vulnerable workers – many of whom are subject to unfair treatment and disparate wages.”
A PublicSource analysis of data from the labor department from May 2008 to May 2013 shows that Pennsylvania hotels have routinely violated federal laws meant to protect their employees.
Paid in cash
NEMACOLIN WOODLANDS RESORT
Pittsburgh is the city with the state’s third-highest number of violations. Its 113 labor violations are distributed among just 18 Pittsburgh-area hotels. But while most of those hotels had violations in the single digits, the Four Points Sheraton at the Pittsburgh Airport had 16. Among its illegalities was paying housekeepers per room cleaned instead of by the hour, and falsely recording the per-room rate as an hourly rate.
There were 18 violations at the Days Inn on Banksville Road, where one worker told the DOL that the hotel avoided paying overtime rates by paying in cash at the straight time rate for overtime work.
Neither hotel returned repeated phone calls or emails seeking comment.
The highest number of hotel labor violations in Pittsburgh came from the Fairmont Pittsburgh. Last year, the DOL reported 33 violations involving 30 employees of the downtown hotel. The violations occurred as far back as 2010, the year the Fairmont opened. The Fairmont paid more than $3,000 in back wages to employees.
“The violations you refer to were brought to our attention a year and a half ago, in January 2012,” said Julie Abramovic, a spokeswoman for the Fairmont Pittsburgh. “The additional wages were immediately repaid, and we have updated internal procedures to comply with wage and hour laws. Since then we have been in total compliance.”
Nearly tied with Pittsburgh is Farmington, whose 112 violations all come from the popular Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, which opened in 1987. In 2010, the self-described “lavish Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star resort” agreed to pay nearly $10,000 in back wages.