An ongoing case filed in the Eastern District of California claims that M-I SWACO, one of the largest drilling fluids companies in the world, violated both federal and California labor laws by:
- Failing to Pay Overtime and Minimum Wages in accordance with federal law
- Failing to Pay Minimum Wages and Overtime in accordance with California law
- Failing to Provide Meal Periods and Rest Breaks
- Failing to Furnish Itemized Wage Statements
- Failing to Pay Wages Timely Upon Termination
- Engaging in Unfair Competition
The lead plaintiffs in the case worked as salaried mud engineers in/around Bakersfield or Long Beach, however, the claim is being brought on behalf of all similar salaried mud engineers and mud engineers in training.
According to the complaint:
…[T]here were two shift arrangements typically used. In one arrangement, four mud engineers worked 12-hour shifts for two weeks, followed by two weeks off. Two mud engineers worked at a time, covering a full 24 hours with two pairs of mud engineers. While mud engineers on 12-hour shifts are told that they have 12 hours off, those 12 hours must be spent at the home trailer. Significantly, they are not allowed to leave the worksite. During the entire 12-hour “off” cycle, they are subject to being called to do work, if there are problems. … In the other shift arrangement, mud engineers are required to work 24-hour shifts. They are told to sleep when they can in the work trailer at the drilling site. Mud engineers on 24-hour shifts are required to respond to calls at any time, even if sleeping.
For meals, mud engineers…must eat at the rig or their work trailer. Mud engineers are not told that they can take rest breaks, they are not informed about any rest break policy, and they routinely have to work through four hour periods with no actual rest break where they are relieved of all duty for at least 10 minutes.
This case is yet another reminder of why oilfield workers should be knowledgeable about their rights under both state and federal wage and hour laws and wary of the various pay schemes used by oilfield service companies that do not provide an overtime premium.
Just because a certain compensation plan has been in use for many years, and by many large oil and gas related employers, do not blindly assume that it is legal – often times these “industry standard” plans are flawed (in favor of the employer – of course). Also remember that your rights to overtime pay cannot be given up by signing a contract or otherwise “agreeing” to work without extra compensation for overtime hours.
Because these pay schemes allow employers to add millions of dollars in profits to their bottom lines each year at the expense of employees, there is little incentive for companies to change the system, unless and until workers take steps to assert and protect their rights. Fortunately, with the help of law firms like ours, this is occurring more frequently allowing millions of dollars in unpaid back overtime wages to be placed back where it belonged – in the paychecks of those who are legally entitled to it.
Our firm and the firms we associate with, have brought similar claims to recover unpaid overtime wages for a wide variety of oil and energy related workers , including:
- Mud Loggers / Solids Control Techs
- Field Service Techs / Operators
- Field Engineers
- Closed Loop Operators
- Wireline / Slickline Operators
- Pumpers / Lease Operators
While we have previously discussed a number of cases in which oilfield workers were being paid using a day-rate or hybrid salary plus a day-rate pay scheme (with no overtime pay), the workers in this case were being paid a “salary” and being treated as exempt from overtime. While a factor, merely being paid a salary is not enough, under either federal or California labor law, to exempt a worker from the laws requiring payment of overtime wages. In addition to a salary, an employee’s job duties must meet certain requirements in order to be properly classified as exempt. In this case, the workers claim that their job duties did not qualify them for any exemption – they did not supervise or manage other employees, they did not have advanced technical degrees, etc.
Whether working in California, Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Montana, Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico, or any other energy producing hot spot, oilfield workers should not rely on the boss or Human Resources for critical information regarding the laws on overtime pay and how such apply to their specific job.
Because of the strict time limits imposed by the state and federal overtime pay laws, procrastination can be costly. If you have any doubts as to your entitlement to overtime, contact the overtime pay experts at The Lore Law Firm for a free and confidential review.