Essential Pittsburgh
8:17 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Reporting Wage Violations at Pennsylvania Hotels

The Fairmont Hotel Pittsburgh
Credit Martha Rial / PublicSource

Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country -- behind Texas, Alabama and Florida -- for the number of hotels with labor law violations, according to the Department of Labor and a recent PublicSource story. This includes wage and child labor violations.

PublicSource Reporter Leah Samuel says because many hotel workers are low skilled and in the hospitality industry, where tips may be given, they’re especially vulnerable to wage violations.

“In Pennsylvania, you can actually pay someone as low as $2.83 an hour if they receive tips,”  Samuel explains. So even if a hotel worker normally gets paid at or above the minimum wage, when it comes to overtime, the rate might be 1.5 times that $2.83, which is illegal.

“It’s supposed to be 1.5 times the regular wage they would receive, minus something called the ‘tip credit’.”

But this exploitation is not common to all hotels in Pennsylvania.

John Graf, Director of Operations for the Priory Hospitality Group and group president of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association says he tries to create a family atmosphere at his boutique hotel/former monastery on the North Shore.

“I find that happy employees, employees that are motivated and want to come and do a good job, do a better job. They’re better with our guests, they’re better with their clients and they do a better job overall.”

Graf says he builds that motivation by paying workers fairly, developing a fun workplace where people get along, and making employees feel like they’re part of something bigger than a job.

The Priory Hotel has a number of employees who have been on the payroll for as many as 10 years. He says when hotel workers are transient and not well versed in what their rights are, they can be more vulnerable to violations.

In many cases, Leah Samuel says she found the hotels wit wage violations also had financial problems or a reported discriminatory and oppressive workplace culture.

Samuel also says in reporting on the hotel violations listed in the data, she was frustrated to find that no workers would talk with her about their negative experiences, even when she went through their representative unions.

“It speaks to the vulnerability of these workers, because of how frightened they are in a lot of cases.”

Since the report came out, however, Samuel says hotel workers have begun to come forward with their experiences, which she may look into in the future.