Grafton car wash accused of shaving employees' time cards

CREATED Jul 2, 2012 - UPDATED: Jul 2, 2012

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GRAFTON- One local company may be taking advantage of young workers and a leading labor attorney says they may even be breaking the law.

In this tough economy people are grabbing work wherever they can find it.

And they are apparently willing to put up with conditions that most of us would run from -- even if it could be illegal.

Keeping cars clean can be big business.

According to some former employees it can also be a dirty business.

"Sitting around and waiting in the room was pretty much my job and not getting paid," said Nick Bidenbider.

The I-Team's investigation uncovered numerous examples of workers apparently being short changed.

I-Team's John Mercure: "So you might be at the car wash for six or eight hours and only get paid for..."

Kevin Meier: "Three or four hours."

Labor lawyers say it's unethical and likely illegal.

"I've never seen a case that presents this egregious of an example of failing to pay employees for time worked," said attorney Jeffrey Hines.

So the I-Team went to the car wash looking for answers.

Full Service Car Wash Incorporated in Grafton -- like most car washes, some days the traffic is steady.

Some days not so much.

Kevin Meier says he was hired with the promise of 40 hours per week.

He claims he was at the car at least 40 hours a week, but was only paid for a fraction of that.

"Show up around 7:50.  Walk into the building and not get punched in.  Sit around the side room for a couple of hours," described Meier.

John Mercure: "how many hours a week would you say you would spend in the building?"
Kevin Meier:  "(Sigh) probably 50 or 60 hours."
John Mercure:  "How many hours a week would you get paid?"
Kevin Meier: "20, 25... Like half that."

Nick Bidenbider says the same thing happened to him -- repeatedly.

"Sometimes I'd ask after waiting for an hour or two if I could leave and they'd say, 'we'll punch you in after 15 minutes,' and then 15 minutes would go by, 'oh we'll punch you in in 20 minutes'... And then just siting there waiting," said Bidenbider.  "Sometimes we'd get punched in for ten minutes for a car and then two hours later a car would come in and get punched in for ten minutes to do that car again."

Renowned labor attorney Jeffrey Hines says what the workers are describing is highly illegal.

"These men should be paid for every minute they are in that workplace because they are at the beck and call of the employer," argued Hines.  "What this law says to employers is that it may be your call not to schedule employees or even to send them home early, but is not your prerogative to have them come into the workplace and then place them into a virtual compensation limbo where they don't even know if they'll be paid for the hours they show up that day."

Meier claims after hours of sitting around not getting paid he would actually ask the manager if he could go home.

"I was like, 'can I leave?', and he was like, 'better not leave or I'll write you up or fire you or terminate you,'" said Meier.

"The situation you described would give new meaning to the term 'egregious'.  This is way over the line. In my 27 years of practice I haven't even seen a situation like this come up," said Hines.

Dave Liekam owns the Grafton car wash and three others, including one in Hales Corners.

When asked about more than a half dozen current and former employees complaining about this time card manipulation, he said, "I guess that's possible, but that employee doesn't have to stay.  They can simply say, 'this is bs, I'm out of here.'"

Liekam told the I-Team the problem was a bad manager who no longer works at the car wash.

Then he went back to attacking the workers who are complaining.

"If they're so unhappy with the job why don't they go and look for something else?  They're getting hours here.  I'm not standing there with a whip," said Liekam.

Full Service Car Wash Incorporated could help the I-Team get to the bottom of a lot of these issues.

The employees involved say the I-Team can see their time cards and their work records.  The owners there refused to make that happen."

"If these allegations are true, this employer should be held fully accountable and hopefully this case will be an example to other employers as well a deterrent to other employers from engaging in these types of behaviors," said Hines.

John Mercure:  "What would you say to kids now that are thinking of maybe getting a job there?"
Kevin Meier: "Don't do it."
Nick Bidenbider:  "Try to find something else."
Kevin Meier: "That will actually pay you for the hours you're spending at your job."

Hours worked.

Pennies paid.

Questions unanswered.

Workers in this story no longer work at the car wash. 

John Mercure did speak to one current worker Monday who said that since the beginning of the investigation and conversation with the owner, the apparently illegal activity has stopped -- at least for now.

The car was is on the state's radar.

Just last year Liekam's Full Service Car Wash company was audited and investigated by the state of Wisconsin.

The company was forced to pay more than $20,000 in back overtime -- that employees were owed.