THE SALVATION ARMY'S Catherine Booth House, a shelter and resource center for abused women and their children, is supposed to be a haven for everyone who comes through its doors. But four female employees say the Salvation Army doesn't extend that principle to its shelter workers.
In a lawsuit, four African-American crisis counselors allege they were forced to work without state-mandated rest or meal breaks for as many as two or three shifts at a stretch, violating both Washington law and the Salvation Army's own guidelines. They're seeking an injunction forcing the agency to change its ways now; the lawsuit won't go to trial until next year.
In their sworn declarations, the four women—Janet White, Lexor Green, Marcola Nixon, and Linda Felton—say they regularly worked eight-hour shifts at the shelter, alone, without receiving the two 10-minute paid rest breaks and unpaid half-hour meal break required by state law. From the moment they arrive at work, the women say, they're on the clock. "I am required at all times during my work shifts to remain on the premises, to keep the office door open, to answer the phones if they ring, and to respond to resident communications," the women's identical affidavits say. "I cannot plan on, expect, or anticipate having an uninterrupted period of even 10 minutes in which to rest, eat, make an uninterrupted telephone call, or go to the bathroom."
Those would be tough working conditions for any job, but they'd be even harsher at a job that involves answering a 24-hour crisis hotline, screening potential residents, resolving disputes, and providing family counseling, often during the early morning or in the dead of night. But are the women's claims true or merely the misdirected grumblings of disgruntled workers? The Salvation Army flatly denies all of the allegations in its response to the suit, and its attorney, Medora Marisseau, would not comment other than to say that "the Salvation Army disagrees with the plaintiffs' claims and is vigorously disputing the lawsuit." Salvation Army community relations director Mike Seely says the nonprofit "provide[s] breaks, and we feel like we're in the right in this situation."
But Dmitri Iglitzin, the labor attorney who is representing the women, says the women's schedules contradict that claim. "They schedule an eight-hour shift with no meal break at all, instead of eight-and-a-half-hour shift with a 30-minute meal break," Iglitzin says. "This is something I can prove." Despite that, "the Salvation Army has not changed at all. They clearly don't think they're doing anything wrong." Whether they have will be determined at a hearing for the preliminary injunction in January and, if things go Iglitzin's way, at trial in King County Superior Court in July.
Erica C. Barnett