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20 bar employees file labour complaints over alleged bilked pay

At least 20 employees staged a walkout earlier this month at a Mount Pleasant sports bar and have filed complaints with the Employment Standards Branch over allegations they were shortchanged hundreds of hours in pay, Metro has learned.

The majority of the complaints were filed together on Aug. 12 against Mike O'Connell, owner of Mavericks Sports Lounge at 395 Kingsway.

Collectively, the claims contain dozens of allegations of unpaid shifts, overtime and vacation pay, pay rates below the minimum wage, excessive hours, disrespectful treatment, and human rights abuses.

O'Connell denies all the claims, which are being investigated by the Employment Standards Branch and have not been proven.

19-hour days

Robbie Sanchez used to be the manager at Mavericks and said he considers his former job "modern slavery."

He alleges he was expected to come in at 9 a.m. and did every task in the house, from cooking and cleaning to bartending and ordering supplies, because O'Connell did not hire enough staff.

Sanchez would then close the bar at 4 a.m. — seven hours later than the 12 hours employers are legally allowed to ask employees to work in a day.  He asserts he never saw a dime of overtime pay.

"I slept there," he said. "I had my own blankets rolled up and I slept on the floor there, because my body couldn't make it."

Former staff members say O'Connell bought the bar about five months ago and not one person who was working there then is still there now. Many quit, while others were fired.

Two cooks claim they were paid $9 an hour even though the minimum wage in B.C. is $10.25. They also allege their pay cheques were often late.

In early August several employees allegedly noticed their paychecks were drastically less than they should be.

"People cried," Sanchez said. "The ladies in the kitchen were all crying because he was paying them $9 an hour, and then they waited for that check, and on top of that he took 47 hours from their pay."

Fired while pregnant

Waitress Stephanie Lipp, 24, was about four months pregnant when O'Connell bought the bar.

"Our manager at the time... ended up leaving because he couldn't get along with Mike, and when he left he told me 'We've all been trying to save your job. He's wanted to fire you from day one because of your pregnancy.'"

Lipp says when she confronted O'Connell they argued about it.

"He denied it of course. I sat down with him and tried to talk to him and I was like, 'You realize that you can't fire me on the basis of my pregnancy,' and he was like, 'Oh, I can give everyone whatever shifts I want and I'm not firing you.'"

When he cut Lipp's shifts down to one day per week she quit and phoned a lawyer.

She has since filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal for wrongful termination, which has not been resolved.

Unable to pay dad's hospital bills

Virginia Dalaguiado is one of the cooks who alleges she was paid only $9 an hour.

The Filipina immigrant scrimped and saved so she could send money home each month to pay hospital bills for her elderly father, who is half paralyzed, and her elderly mother is also ill and in and out of hospital.

Reached by phone on Friday she cried as she recounted what it was like when she got her paycheck late, only to discover there would not be enough to send anything home after she paid her bills and rent.

"We agreed [on] $11 an hour," she said. "I work July 15 and then Aug. 8 I receive my first cheque. From July 15 until July 31 I work 120 hours. He paid me only 80 hours and $9 is the rate."

She has not been unable to find employment since and said she doesn't know how she will pay her bills.

"I was not able to send money for the month of July. The hospital knows we can't pay, because I am the only one supporting the family," she said.

All claims denied

The Employment Standards Branch confirmed it is investigating a total of 20 complaints against Mavericks. Sanchez said another five are pending.

"As this is an active complaint file, no further information can be provided at this time," said spokesman David Currie in an email.

"The branch looks at every complaint it receives, and each complaint is treated equally."

When asked how the branch investigates, Currie said disclosing that could compromise the investigation.

Reached by phone on Friday O'Connell initially agreed to a sit-down interview at Mavericks, but later backed out.

"I'm not going to be discussing this here situation. We have never heard nothing from the labour board that we had complaints, me or my accountant," he said.

He dismissed the allegations as "totally untrue," and when asked to elaborate, O'Connell suggested booking an appointment to sit down with him and his accountant next week.

Currie said the Employment Standards Branch receives 6,000 to 7,000 complaints every year and recovers on average about $6.5 million in wages owed on behalf of employees.

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