MILWAUKEE (CN) - DirecTV technicians have filed 24 federal actions and counting, alleging that the country's largest satellite TV provider is denying them fair wages.
Though the technicians work for a network of so-called Home Service Providers, like DirectSat USA, they "drive a DirecTV-branded vehicle, wear a DirecTV uniform, and perform their work according to DirecTV's exacting policies and procedures."
The more than two dozen complaints filed in just the last seven days allege that DirecTV misclassifies these employees as independent contractors to circumvent the Fair Labor Standards Act.
"But fortunately for these workers, it is the economic reality of the relationship - not DirecTV's self-serving labels - that controls whether plaintiffs meet the definition (among the broadest ever legislated) of an 'employee' under the ... FLSA," a complaint filed on Oct. 20 in Wisconsin states (parentheses in original).
But T. Warren Jackson, senior vice president and associate general counsel for DirecTV, "unequivocally" denied the so-called "'fissured employment' scheme," saying pay and worker classification do not come from the top down.
"They are attacking a business model and using, you know, hyperbole to do so," Jackson said. "Maybe that's not hyperbole, but it's certainly overblown."
DirecTV technicians claim that they fit the FLSA definition of "employee" based on the level of control the company has over their work.
"The provider agreements enable DirecTV to control nearly every facet of the technician's work, down to the 'DirecTV' shirts they are required to wear and the 'DirecTV' ID card they must show customers," the Wisconsin complaint states.
Technicians say DirecTV should thus give them hourly wages that conform to state and federal law, plus overtime pay for the 50 to 60 hours each employee works weekly.
The piece-rate system by which DirecTV actually pays techs for each installation is not memorialized in any form, the workers claim.
Jackson countered that the piece-rate pay plan, among other things, does not come from DirecTV.
"There is not a single word in our [home-service provider] agreements that impacts these technicians' pay in any way or that measures or impacts individual technicians' performance on work orders," Jackson said in an email.
The home-service providers that contract with DirecTV are entitled to classify and pay their workers as they see fit, he added. Classifying them as independent contractors is just one business model; some technicians are classified as employees, Jackson said.
"The complaints mistakenly conflate policies intended to maximize customer service and safety such as training, background checks, tech identification and confirming a job is completed with DirecTV exercising significant control over the subcontractor technicians' terms and conditions of employment," Jackson said in an email.
Technicians meanwhile say that DirecTV is in control since it hands down the work orders.
"Through the Providers, DirecTV also determined whether plaintiffs' work merited compensation, including setting the rate of pay to the providers for the Plaintiffs' work," the complaint states. "Providers then administered payroll and provided Plaintiffs with their paychecks."
Technicians say they are also responsible for buying additional materials needed for installation, "such as screws, poles, concrete, and cables."
After an installation is performed, moreover, technicians allegedly face "'chargebacks' wherein defendants would deduct amounts from Plaintiffs' pay if there were issues with an installation, or questions from the customer, generally up to 90 days after the customer's service was activated."
"The chargeback would occur for a variety of reasons, many of which were out of Plaintiffs' control, including, for example, faulty equipment, improper installation, customer calls regarding how to operate their remote control, or a customer's failure to give greater than a 95% satisfaction rating for the services provided by the technician," the complaint continues.
All told, the complaint states, technicians are paid below the minimum and overtime wages required by law as a result of defendants' payment structure.
Jackson denied responsibility for the wage system. "We neither mandate or encourage piece-rate pay or alleged chargebacks," he said in an email.
The technicians insist, however, that "DirecTV control over its purportedly independent provider partners is integral to its fissured employment scheme."
To maintain the system, DirecTV even "regularly infuses these partners with what it labels internally as 'extraordinary advance payments,'" the complaint alleges.
"When litigation or other circumstances make the 'independent' relationship a negative for DirecTV, DirecTV simply absorbs these entities by acquisition."
Predicting that DirecTV will face a settlement demand, Jackson said DirecTV and its home-service providers will "vigorously defend" their position in litigation.
The Wisconsin technicians seek repayment plus an additional 50 percent of all wages owed, twice the amount of "chargebacks" and other deductions, liquidated damages and prejudgment interest.
The Wisconsin plaintiffs, in addition to those in several other jurisdictions, are represented by George Hanson of Stueve Siegel Hanson in Kansas City.
Edward Falcetta, the lead named plaintiff in the Wisconsin action, was part of a similar lawsuit against the company last year.
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