Empire Gas forced to pay $583,000 in back pay to employees

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The Empire Gas Station in Mattituck, one of 14 on Long Island.

A Riverhead-based gas station chain will pay more than $583,000 in back wages and penalties after reaching a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor for violating federal labor laws for a second time, officials announced yesterday.

The settlement was part of lawsuit brought by the department against Empire Gas and its owners, Ali Yuzbasioglu and Sukru Ilgin, according to the department’s statement.

A year-long investigation by the department revealed Empire Gas didn’t pay 35 employees overtime, despite them working between 84 to 114 hours per week, and paid some workers off the books between January 2008 and January last year, said Long Island district director Irv Miljoner. The company also underpaid workers and didn’t keep accurate payroll records, he said.

As part of federal labor laws, employees must be paid at least the federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, and time and a half for every hour they work after working 40 hours per week.

“The violations uncovered in this investigation are unfortunately typical of those we find at other noncompliant gasoline service stations, with vulnerable, low-wage workers being deprived of the wages they have rightfully earned,” Mr. Miljoner said. He added that the department is “leveling the competitive playing field” by cracking down on gas stations and other companies that violate federal law to pay their employees less.

Empire Gas will pay $544,900 in back wages to the 35 employees whose rights were violated, according to the judgement in the case. The chain will also be forced to notify all employees of their federal labor rights.

Three of the 14 Empire locations are located on the North Fork in Riverhead, Mattituck and Southold.

The company was investigated about seven years ago for similar offenses and was forced to pay more than $943,000 in back wages in a 2004 settlement and agreed to follow labor laws in the future. Since they violated that settlement, the gas chain was found in contempt and will about $40,000 in penalties.

Mr. Miljoner said the penalties will become harsher if the chain is caught violating labor laws again.

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