HOUSTON -- David Fuentes knows the value of hard work, putting in long hours at the flooring business he owns. And he’s passed that work ethic on to his son, Cory, having him rip out old wood floors and prep them for restoration.
That’s why when the 16-year-old landed his first job at Fish Place, a fast-food eatery in Spring, David knew the business had a diligent, capable employee on their hands.
But the father was about to get a surprise.
"I just couldn’t believe that somebody would not pay a kid for working for him," Fuentes said.
Fuentes said he learned this after Cory had already worked a few shifts.
"He told me he was going to start paying me on the third day," Cory said management told him.
The first two days, according to Cory, were considered training.
"He wasn’t going to pay me for training," said Cory.
Fuentes said he thought it all might have been a misunderstanding, a miscommunication of some sort. But if it wasn’t, as an employer himself, he knew that it violated the Federal Labor Standards Act.
So he went to talk with Fish Place manager Muhammad Khrum. Fuentes recorded the conversation with his cell phone and soon Khrum confirmed that indeed, he wouldn’t pay for Cory’s "training" days.
"You will work the first two days for free, the first 10 hours free for me," Khrum explained to the father.
Fuentes: "Do you understand in the State of Texas and the United States you can’t do that?"
Khrum: "I know that, I know that, I know that. But because he is, that’s a first job for him right? That’s a first job."
Fuentes says he was astounded. What’s more, he became angry when Krum told him that if he insisted on Cory getting paid for those days, he might not keep him as an employee.
Fuentes: "Listen to me carefully. I’m going to be back up here Monday to get his money, all right? I’m going to take him home, but I think it’s rather shi**y what you did."
Khrum: "No sir."
But turns out, the 11 News I-Team has found other complaints of free labor at fast-food establishments.
"It’s frustrating because I was so excited to have a job and I go to work and I don’t get paid for doing the work" said Samara Hill.
In Hill’s case, there was a twist. At a Kentucky Fried Chicken/Long John Silver’s, she said the manager had her clock in under his name and employee ID.
I-Team: "On paper, where were you?"
Hill: "Nowhere I guess."
I-Team: "There was no proof that you were working."
Some parents have taken serious action when they feel their kids were cheated.
Joe Ramirez filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor about concession sales at the Northwest 45 Little League.
"It’s terrible what these people do," said Ramirez. "I mean they take advantage of these kids."
Ramirez found that the league shortchanged his daughter and other kids working the concession stand during games.
The federal investigation agreed. The DOL found the league in violation of labor standards by underpaying eight young employees a total of $924.
Frank Escobar is president of the league.
I-Team: "Why wouldn’t you pay the kids what they were owed? These are kids working a concession stand."
Escobar: "Like I said, we already took care of it with the Department of Labor, we answered what they asked, and we’re going to leave it at that."
Escobar said after the federal investigation the league paid the children the money.
The Department of Labor confirms his claim.
"It absolutely bothers me," said attorney Daryl Sinkule, an expert in employment law.
He said in a down economy, young workers are more likely to be cheated, and that inexperience helps it happen.
"It is easier to take advantage of a young person who doesn’t know that much about what their rights are," said Sinkule.
In addition, even if they do know the law, young employees often don’t know who or where to report a possible violation.
But Sinkule said the bottom line is the same for young and old.
"An employer has to pay an employee for work they perform, period the end," Sinkule said.
Back at Fish Place, we interviewed manager Muhammad Khrum who told us Cory Fuentes was ultimately paid for his training days at the restaurant.
"I have exact proof," said Khrum as he held up a photocopy of a check. "It’s my bank account, check and everything, I have proof that I paid him."
I-Team: "You only paid after his father came in and complained and videotaped you and put it on YouTube."
Khrum: "Nope, nope."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Kentucky Fried Chicken said the restaurant has no record or recollection of Samara Hill working. Rick Maynard also said the franchisee is committed to operating his business in a legal and ethical manner, and adhering to employment laws.