US Department of Labor; Small Businesses; Minimum Wage

October 22, 2014

Many startups are often owned and operated by U.S. immigrants and in most cities there is a burgeoning workforce ready to work at minimum wage.  Immigrants, and many other new business owners, are often unfamiliar with the complexity of overlapping laws and regulations that apply to businesses.

There is one business trap that I have been working on that business owners should heed: minimum wage documentation.  The reason I mention immigrant in this context is that a Department of Labor investigator I spoke with had a great deal of familiarity with asian-owned small businesses and seemed to be disdainful of their intention to comply with minimum wage law.  I don’t know that the Department of Labor is focusing on this segment of the population but from this conversation I got the impression that it might be or at least this investigator seemed to view this part of the business world with cynicism.

Apparently based on a complaint by a disgruntled formed employee the Department of Labor investigated an immigrant-owned small business and found that its recordkeeping was inadequate with respect to hours actually worked.  Apparently based on the word of this former employee, the Department of Labor determined that a nearly crippling amount of money was owed to employees for nonpayment of overtime.

The business owners were not fluent in English, were not given a translator, and the method of calculating the underpayment was not shown to them.  They were not advised to get a lawyer and they were told that if they did not pay it right away they would be taken to court where they would be assessed a higher amount and have to pay a huge amount of money for lawyers.  The people were terrified, signed a “confession,” and agreed to pay the assessment.

These bullying tactics have been repeated.  People subjected to a minimum wage audit need to be aware of their rights and understand that the unverified conclusions of the Department of Labor can be substantially off the mark.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law, requires a level or recordkeeping that is not difficult to maintain.  It is prudent to verify compliance.  If audited by the Department of Labor, seek assistance as the conclusions of the Department of Labor are not unassailable.


National Collection Agencies.

February 21, 2013

It recently came to my attention that many collection agencies have not registered as collection agencies to do business in Washington or in other states in which they operate.  In order to avoid having to do this some say that they have purchased the debt so they are not collecting it for someone else.  This is a fairly transparent means of trying to avoid collection agency law in the states as well as application of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  In many states, including Washington, this tactic does not work.  The law covers debts purchased by  businesses in the debt collection business.  Failure to register exposes these businesses to significant damages and is an enormous advantage to any consumer.


GM a Few Months From Extinction

November 13, 2008

Many people call GM’s vehicles dinosaurs, which could be weirdly prescient in that analysts say that GM will become extinct in early 2009 unless it receives billions from the government.  Just last year of course the authomobile industry required $25 billion of loan guaranties from the government.  Now GM needs about that amount in cash.

Like Thomas Friedman, I am sick and tired of the automobile industry thinking that it can susrvive by paying money to lobbyists, blocking environmental laws, and disregarding the needs and concerns of consumers.  American auto manufacturers used to plan the obsolescence of the cars they manufactured in the interest of causing people to need new ones.  Their utter disregard of consumers is tantamount to planning their own obsolescence.

There is no way taxpayer should support the disreputable and irrational behavior of the American auto industry, at least not without some serious concessions.  The government ought to get whatever equity there is held by the stockholders and the officers and directors should be held accountable.  That means fire them without a parachute of any sort.  The salaries of their successors, considering what these companies have done to their industry and to the country, should be dramatically reduced.


Selling and Financing Real Estate

November 13, 2008

On November 8, the Washington Post wrote this about the real estate market:

In soft and declining housing markets, lenders are making a big deal of “comps,” the comparable sales of properties used as benchmarks in home real estate appraisals. Some sellers are forced to renegotiate lower prices with buyers, even after they have a signed contract. Rather than accepting sales of similar properties that closed as much as six to 12 months ago, lenders and mortgage investors are demanding that appraisers include only the freshest comps, ideally those closed within the previous 90 days, to support their valuations. In Richmond, appraiser Perry Turner of P.E. Turner & Co. said his firm has seen numerous cases where using newly mandated 90-day or more recent comps, as opposed to those six months or older, has contributed to valuations lower than the price on the sales contract. Turner said that in 95% of those cases, the listing and selling agents have gotten together and renegotiated the contract rather than lose the deal

Both buyers and sellers should be wary of prices based on comparable sales more than 90 days prior to the appraisal or “market survey.” Sellers need to be wary because a listing based on even six month old sales might be artificially high so that even if a buyer is found, financing may not be available.

In this eroding market, it behooves buyers to be sure that there is a good contingency for financing and to put little down as a deposit. Sellers on the other hand are motivated to get a large deposit. Financing contingencies are sometimes rather unclearly written, so both sides should be quite clear about the meaning of this part of the agreement.


School Children Chant of Assassination.

November 13, 2008

All that campaign talk about Obama being a terrorist and somehow un-American translates into frightful activity on the ground.  People actually believe that stuff, including dangerous people.  To get an idea of the effect of this sort of campaigning consider a bus load of elementary children chanting “assassinate Obama” on the bus.  Some of the kids did not even know what “assassinate ” meant.

This was reported by a Rexberg Idaho television station.  Rexberg is a small town dominated by a Mormon university.  Mormons of course campaigned fiercely against gay marriage in California, spending tens of millions of dollars.  I hope this very usual occurrence does not indicate that there is a radical — even violent — branch of the faith.


Criminal Restitution

November 13, 2008

Last week the Washington State Supreme Court published State v. Griffith a criminal case of interest to people who have had property taken from them. The criminal courts offer an alternative to an expensive and time-consuming lawsuit against the person who took the property. You have to bear in mind that conviction of a crime requires a very high standard of proof, but if you have such proof of guilt, then consider going to the prosecutor instead of suing.

If a person is convicted of taking money or property, or a related offense, the judge can require them to make restitution, that is to pay back the victim. Such an order, as a part of sentencing, is more likely to be paid than a conventional civil judgment.

The facts of this case also remind us to avoid cut rate purchases under circumstances suggesting foul play. Ms. Griffith purchased jewelry in a parking lot at a cheap price, then sold it to a pawn shop. She was later identified by the pawn shop owner and packed off to jail.


What is Conservatism?

November 12, 2008

I’ve been hearing a lot about where this country is politically and I have to confess that I do not understand much of what is being said. Yesterday I heard a Republican say that “America is right of center.” I sincerely do not understand what that means. I presume that it was intended to mean that Americans support the Republican agenda, but the election offered little to support that position and polls uniformly show that the majority of us support the political issues advanced by so called “liberals” such as opposition to the Iraq war, health care revision, regulation of financial institutions, and establishing a trade balance.

It seems to me that the notions of conservative and liberal are indistinct to say the least with conservatives proposing dramatic changes to the society at least over the last eight years (I’m thinking tax reduction during a war, the “Bush Doctrine” which permits attacking other countries that might be a threat in the future, domestic warrantless surveillance, rendition, Guantanamo and the related human rights issues, abdication of federal oversight of financial institutions, stuff like that) and liberals advocating a return to a balanced budget and trade balance, and rolling back many of the recent changes implemented by the administration.

Another instance of this confusion about what is conservative and what is liberal is the recent Supreme Court case, argued Tuesday, in which the Court heard arguments about the FCC’s right to penalize “fleeting profanity.” The FCC for example fined PBS for airing interviews with old blues men who sometimes used the “s” word.

During oral argument it appeared that the “conservative” judges favored upholding the FCC’s right to control the use of any bad words, while the liberals seemed to disfavor this relatively mild form of censorship. In the courts conservatism is not marked by a philosophical opposition to governmental intrusion into our lives, as conservative judges tend to favor this type of censorship, to favor expansion of the police power and generally to disfavor using civil rights to limit the powers of government. At least in cases involving these competing interests the conservatives are more likely to be on the side of the government. On the other hand when government interferes with business, they are more likely to be on the side of business and the limitation of government.

This reminds me that when the constitution was adopted there was no bill of rights, to Thomas Jefferson’s great disappointment. The conservatives, who generally had opposed the inclusion of a bill of rights, coalesced into the Federalist Party which favored a strong federal government. Federalists were also much more pacifist than Jefferson’s following. I guess the conservatives on the bench take inspiration from John Adams and the Federalists at least in part. The conservatives of that era were for radical changes in the government to centralize and strengthen the power of the federal government.

The just finished presidential election illustrates the blur between conservative and liberal, as these terms are commonly used. McCain could not effectively distinguish his policies from those of Bush. McCain could not identify any bright lines that distinguished his policies from Obama and appealed to the voters. Eventually he seemed to stake his campaign on “character” issues, which to some degree is a euphemism for personal attacks. He did this is substantial part because he could not find the “right of center” where Republicans say most of us reside.


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