KARK 4 Investigation: Nearly 200 CDI Employees’ Pay on Pause

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Standing outside Russellville-based Child Development Incorporated (CDI), former employee Rosalind Johnson is not sure how she’ll make ends meet.

“Today, I’ve been laughing to keep from crying. It’s not good,” she said.

She’s one of about 200 CDI employees who haven’t been paid in about three weeks. Not only is Johnson without a check to show for the past pay period, but she’s also out of a job. Force reductions cut her out of the company’s Dumas office.

“I’m a single mother. You know, you’ve got a mortgage, you’ve got bills. The first of the month is almost here,” Johnson said.

CDI runs early childhood programs, like the federal Head Start program, in about a dozen counties across the state. But as far as why employees haven’t been paid or when the check might arrive in the mail. That’s got a lot of folks drawing a blank.

“We don’t know anything, except we don’t have our money,” Johnson said.

This woman, who we’ll call Jessica spoke to KARK only if we concealed her identity because she’s still employed by CDI.

“My being here could cost me my job,” she told us matter-of-factly. “We’re not even allowed to ask questions about why this is happening or we run the risk of getting written up.”

Jessica and other employees said they were blind-sided after work hours last week, when they were notified they wouldn’t be paid until further notice, as you can see in this company email obtained by KARK (see download document button below).

I believe a couple of weeks ago they knew this ahead of time. Had they told us, we could have made provisions with our bill collectors, you know, we could have put a little money back,” Jessica said.

Now, the company’s telling employees its offices will be closed on Tuesday. That’s another day without pay, while these workers are waiting for checks on hours already clocked.

“We were told we would not come to work tomorrow and we would have to take leave without pay,” Jessica said.

But on Wednesday, Jessica said they are expected to work without knowing if they will be paid.

“So you have been told you have to come to work having not been paid and not knowing when you’ll be paid?” KARK asked.

“Yes. We’re to show up with a smile on our face and back our employer,” she said.

According to her, employees have considered simply not showing up until they are paid. However, these centers service low-income families that rely on those services for their children. Without that, parents would be left in the same situation, a tough spot.

“You know, we don’t want to put the parents in that bad situation,” Jessica said. “So, we keep showing up for the kids.”

“That’s another thing you have to consider,” Johnson agreed. “If these employees don’t show up, that’s leaving the parents to scramble and figure out what they’re going to do. A lot of them don’t have the extra money to pay for daycare on short notice like that.”

With employees left without answers, KARK went straight to the source, asking why these people haven’t been paid. According to the Arkansas Labor Department, not paying someone on the expected pay day is a violation of labor policies.

“At this time, all we can say is due to recent financial budgetary challenges CDI was unable to meet recent payroll obligations,” said CDI Assistant Executive Director Jana Bays.

“When we say budgetary challenges, is that funding’s just been short or has money been spent inappropriately?” KARK asked Bays.

“Money has not been spent, to our knowledge,money has not been spent inappropriately,” Bays said.

Bays confirms employees would not be coming to work Tuesday, but she said the company would reopen its centers on February 1, 2012, which is the start of a new fiscal year.

“So, essentially we ran out of money for this fiscal year? Is that what happened?” KARK asked.

“It appears that way, yes,” Bays said.

When asked when employees would be paid, no firm date was determined or supplied to us.

 “We are going to pay the staff as quickly as possible,” Bays said.

KARK went further, asking if this financial oversight should have been detected earlier.

“From a financial aspect, should we have known that the funds weren’t there before you know last Friday?” KARK asked.

“That’s not something we can comment on right now,” she said.

So, hard working folks like “Jessica” and Rosalind Johnson are forced to wait for money they’ve already earned.

“This was work we did two weeks ago that’s owed. We just want it and need it,” Johnson said.

As the sun sets on Monday, these workers aren’t at all sure tomorrow will shine any extra light on the state of limbo they are living in.

According to the Arkansas Department of Labor’s legal division, not paying employees on the expected payday is a violation that workers can file a wage claim with the department if the amount of money owed is less than $2,000. In general, employees must be guaranteed payment twice a month.

Individuals can also take the case to small claims court, without the need of private counsel, if the amount of money owed is less than $5,000. However, individuals can hire an attorney and recoup those costs in the process if the court finds in the employee’s favor.

According to the Arkansas Department of Labor, workers cannot be required to work without pay, and lack of payment can constitute a “constructive discharge” which allows employees to file for unemployment.

Filing a wage claim with the Department of Labor is free, but  General Counsel Denise Oxley cautions individuals that the amount of time it will take the agency to handle a claim will be longer than what might result from a small claims court decision.

However, if enough employees are affected, it could warrant bringing in the federal arm of the Department of Labor, which can wield a bigger stick and enforce stiffer penalties for employers that fail to pay.

According to Oxley, it never hurts to contact the Department of Labor about wage issues you may be facing.

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