Voice of America Faces Class Action Over Employment Practices

Voice of America contractors said they are at the mercy of their supervisors, performing tasks outside their contract, on-call at all times, and never classified as full-time employees.

In this June 15, 2020 file photo, the Voice of America building stands in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (CN) —  In a federal class action filed Thursday, Voice of America employees sued the international multimedia broadcaster for refusing to classify them as full-time employees despite working more than 40 hours a week and completing tasks outside those specified in their contract. 

The employees, who worked at Voice of America as independent contractors, said they were lured into purchase order agreements which gave VOA a one-year renewal option. 

In the case of the lead plaintiff, Jason Lambro, Voice of America renewed his purchase order agreement for 19 consecutive years — and never made significant changes to his contract. 

Lambro, of Nottingham, Maryland, began working as a studio technician for Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 2002. According to the complaint filed Thursday afternoon in Washington, Lambro and other contractors allege that Voice of America required them to work in other departments outside those specified in their contracts, controlled their schedules and required them to remain on-call at all times. 

The class action members say that anyone who refused their supervisor’s demands were eventually fired. 

Despite working more than 40 hours a week, they claim they were not given benefits or overtime pay, as are required under the Fair Labor Standards Act. 

“VOA willfully misclassified Plaintiff and the Class Members as independent contractors to minimize costs and avoid violating its congressional hiring authority,” the complaint states. 

The lawsuit comes as Voice of America is already in the spotlight for a flurry of scandals, mostly surrounding Michael Pack, the chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) — Voice of America’s parent company. 

Pack resigned last week at President Joe Biden’s request amid a number of complaints, one of which says he spent $4 million investigating current and former employees to reshape USAGM. The whistleblower said it was an attempt to hire journalists and officials who would promote former President Donald Trump ahead of the presidential election. 

Trump appointed Pack, a conservative filmmaker, in June 2020 after he was recommended by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. 

During his turbulent seven-month tenure, Pack accused the networks of being receptive to foreign spies and fired senior officials who he thought had an anti-Trump bias. 

After Pack’s resignation, Biden named Kelu Chao as Pack’s interim replacement and dismissed VOA’s director and deputy director. 

But the concerns with Voice of America and its parent company seem to begin far before Pack’s tenure: the class action lawsuit states that Voice of America was aware that independent contractors should be classified as full-time employees, as the Inspector General of the Department of State audited USAGM in 2014 and brought their misclassification to their attention.

According to the complaint, USAGM ignored the audit’s findings. 

Attorneys for both the plaintiffs and VOA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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