Undercover video, internal docs expose worker concerns at Lucas Oil Stadium
The Indiana Department of Labor and executives at Lucas Oil Stadium have launched independent investigations after WTHR uncovered serious questions about a company that's providing hundreds of workers for the Super Bowl.
The questions involve improper wages and allegations of racism at MS Staffing. The local temp agency provides year-round employees to Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana Convention Center, Banker's Life Fieldhouse, Victory Field and dozens of private companies around central Indiana.
Over the past three months, 13 Investigates has received more than 60 complaints from MS Staffing workers who say their paychecks have come up short week after week. During recent Friday (payday) visits to the company's west-side recruiting office, WTHR found many employees had received incorrect paychecks – or no check at all.
"It's short 8 to 18 hours every week and it shouldn't be like that," said Darrelle Rispor, who was assigned by MS Staffing to work on the Lucas Oil Stadium grounds crew. "I got $132 and I worked 32 hours last week; got paid for 18. I'm tired of this," he said, looking at his paycheck and shaking his head. "I work hard for my family and I feel like they should pay me like I'm working hard."
Eddie Edwards had a similar experience. "I worked every day at the convention center for the auto show and they only paid me 20 hours when they know I worked 38 hours," he explained. "This is insanity. You know you worked the hours. They know you worked the hours. How come my check is short every time?"
"I didn't get any check today," complained Anthony Coffee, a MS Staffing worker assigned to Republic Waste Services. "The checks aren't right. The hours aren't right. We're short on our money every week."
Some of the workers say it takes months to get their wages from MS Staffing, and others fear they won't get their money at all.
"As soon as I started complaining, they let me go," said Corey Berryhill, a MS Staffing team leader who worked at Lucas Oil Stadium. "They told me they weren't giving me nothing because they couldn't confirm my hours."
The undercover video
As many as 900 MS Staffing workers will be working downtown this weekend during the Super Bowl. At Lucas Oil Stadium, the temp workers sweep the stands, take out the trash, clean windows, polish executive suites and shovel snow before and after stadium events. It's tedious work that pays just above minimum wage – at least it's supposed to.
But Eyewitness News undercover video shows many MS Staffing employees report to the stadium for work, only to wait around for hours without getting paid. Those who want work at Lucas Oil Stadium are told to be inside the stadium hours before their scheduled start time. Following an Indianapolis Colts game last month, 13 Investigates visited MS Staffing's large waiting area in the basement of Lucas Oil Stadium. More than 100 workers were already checked in and lined up by 7:00 am, but it was nearly two hours later before those employees were assigned to specific jobs. Stadium temp workers like Qiana Jones say they don't get paid for their wait time.
"I get up at 4:30. I get on my bus at 5:30. Get downtown by 5:50 and sit and wait," Jones explained. "That's just what they tell us to do."
WTHR spoke to a former full-time MS Staffing employee who helped recruit for the company. The worker, who asked not to be identified, told 13 Investigates temp workers at MS Staffing have every right to be angry.
"We're sending them in to work well before their start time and not paying them for those hours," said the insider, who acknowledged serious problems with the company's payroll. "When you watch hundreds of people come in week after week after week that are not being paid, there's something wrong with the system."
Officials at the Indiana Department of Labor say the problems identified by staff at the temp agency raise serious questions.
"Speaking in general terms, a worker has to be paid for all hours that they work," said Rick Ruble, IDOL's general counsel and deputy commissioner of labor. "If the employer orders them to be at a certain place at a certain time, they're considered to be on the clock or working and should be compensated for that."
Based upon WTHR's investigation, IDOL is now investigating MS Staffing, too.
"I have assigned a wage investigator to look into that and try to figure out what is causing the problems … and see what we can do to address it," Ruble said.
IDOL has received three wage complaints against MS Staffing in the past six months which, according to Ruble, "really is not a large number of formal complaints." But he admits many workers do not know where to turn when they do not receive their proper wages, and Ruble says his agency is willing to mediate wage disputes from any workers who believe they have been underpaid by their employer.
"When there is a disagreement, the Department of Labor offers a wage dispute resolution process," he explained. "Our focus is making sure workers get paid for the hours they work. It's no cost … and if they need to file a wage claim, it's pretty easy to do."
Temp agency responds
The president of MS Staffing met with 13 Investigates last week to discuss her company's response to WTHR's investigation.
"There has been glitches in the system," said MS Staffing co-founder and president Leticia Snoddy. "We're now trying to make things better for everybody."
Snoddy says her company has doubled in size since she took sole control of MS Staffing a year ago. She attributes much of the payroll issues to "growing pains" caused by that rapid growth, and Snoddy said she did not know workers were waiting inside the stadium for hours without getting paid.
"I can look into that and I'll address it with everybody," she said. A few days later, MS Staffing installed electronic time clocks at Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center to expedite staff check-in, reduce worker wait time and prevent payroll errors.
"We're here to help. We're not here to take advantage of anybody," Snoddy said.
Because of problems highlighted in WTHR's investigation, MS Staffing also sent letters to hundreds of its temp workers, inviting them to call a new hotline (855-243-5562 or 317-374-4673) to report any problems. "If they can just call in or come in, we're more than happy to help them out," Snoddy added.
Complain or remain silent?
But some of the temp agency's workers are skeptical. Darren Benning and Danny Morton, both assigned to the Lucas Oil Stadium grounds crew, said MS staffing has responded slowly to previous complaints.
"They will tell you in a minute ‘We will call you. Let me get your phone number and we'll call you.' But they never called me," said Morton, who said MS Staffing was late on his paychecks and paid him $1.50 per hour less than he was promised.
"When I complain they say ‘Give us a little bit more time.' Right. I [gave] ya'all a month, I still haven't gotten my money yet," Darren Benning told 13 Investigates in December. "It's crazy. It's like we're working for free."
Many disgruntled workers don't complain at all, according to sources who've recently worked at MS Staffing.
"There are some who are too scared to, who can't take the risk because they gotta eat this weekend," said the former full-time agency staffer who talked with WTHR. "There are some who don't want to take the risk because they're here illegally and they're working and they've got a job and they don't want to get caught. Right or wrong, those are the facts … They're basically working for free until MS gets around to paying them, and they continue to work because they need a job."
Asked whether MS Staffing verifies the immigration status of its workers, Snoddy replied, "We make sure we follow all state and federal laws." Asked for clarification, she admitted "That's something we're looking into. We're still putting new systems in place to make sure those things [hiring workers without legal work status] do not happen."
The NFL requires that all credentialed workers at official Super Bowl sites such as Lucas Oil Stadium pass an extensive FBI background check (which includes a verification of immigration status). That has made recent background and immigration checks of MS Staffing workers a necessity. MS Staffing "has performed a criminal history background check and e-verification of immigration status on all associates who are currently working for the company," according to a statement sent last week to WTHR.
Claims of racism
Not getting paid correctly isn't the only complaint involving MS Staffing. Some workers claim the company is also plagued by racism, and that certain workers are assigned to certain jobs based on their race or nationality.
"Usually it's only Hispanic workers who get the best jobs and get to clean the luxury boxes at the stadium," said one company insider, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Another MS Staffing worker told WTHR "I know there are clients that request specific groups of workers – Latinos for example. [They say] ‘we want the Latino workers, we want the Mexicans.' That's blatant racism to fulfill the order that way."
Internal e-mails from MS Staffing raise further questions about how the temp agency handles issues of race. Those internal messages – sent anonymously to WTHR and later authenticated by MS Staffing and its public relations agency – show some of the temp agency's clients specifically asked MS Staffing to send Hispanic workers to fulfill their staffing needs.
Snoddy, whose parents are Mexican immigrants, admits some clients do ask for workers of a specific race. But she insists those requests are not considered when MS Staffing chooses which temp workers are assigned to a job.
"I can't control what other people say," she said. "We send out the right type of person for a job. I don't discriminate."
The president of the staffing company responded with frustration when asked about other internal e-mails obtained by 13 Investigates. The company e-mails include dialogue between MS Staffing's chief operating officer and another manager, and they are filled with derogatory ethnic slurs and racial stereotypes towards Mexicans, African Americans and whites.
"I don't tolerate it, and it will not be tolerated as long as it's on my watch. I will address it," Snoddy said.
Days later, MS Staffing issued a company-wide memo clarifying its code of conduct and harassment policies. Snoddy also sent WTHR a follow-up statement, calling the e-mails "a private chat between co-workers who are Hispanic and African-American employees, learning and teaching the Spanish language and Hispanic culture. " She said the e-mails were not intended to make others uncomfortable.
Stadium has "very serious concerns"
Regardless of the intent, the emails – and the other problems involving MS Staffing – do not sit well with executives at the Capital Improvement Board, who oversee operations at Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center.
"It's just not acceptable. I think MS has some work to do internally," said CIB executive director Barney Levengood, who has launched his own investigation.
CIB's current contract with MS Staffing is a 1-page document. It does not address discrimination, harassment, background checks, worker pay or other issues commonly found in municipal contracts. Levengood admits that is an oversight.
"Based on the things you have brought to our attention, I can assure you that agreement will be far more robust," he said. "In the past MS has been a good company for us, but the things that you are talking about are pretty significant. These are very, very serious concerns … and if they are not corrected, there is a great possibility we will not use MS anymore."