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Published: Saturday, 4/2/2005

Sandusky paper probed for possible overtime violations


SANDUSKY - The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the Sandusky Register for possible violations of federal overtime regulations, according to a department official and former employees of the newspaper.

"There is an ongoing investigation," said Richard Blaylock, assistant district director for the Department of Labor's office in Columbus. Mr. Blaylock said the inquiry, which involves the nonunion newspaper's compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, began March 10.

He said the investigation would cover a two-year period, but declined to provide further details.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, requires that most nonsupervisory employees receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week.

But former newsroom employees contacted by The Blade said they routinely worked additional hours without being paid.

"I knew what was taking place wasn't legal," said Ann Richardson, who was a reporter at the Register from May of 2002 to October, 2003. "It just wasn't a good situation to be in for anybody."

Ms. Richardson said management at the newspaper told her and other reporters they could not work overtime without prior approval. Such approval was rarely, if ever, granted, she added.

That put her and other staff members in a dilemma as they tried to do their jobs and meet editors' demands, Ms. Richardson said.

"You were expected to turn out two or three stories a day ... Sometimes it's hard to meet that kind of production expectation and not work overtime," she said.

"Sometimes you were faced with a choice: Do you work overtime without being paid, or do you not cover the story the way the community deserves to have it covered?"

She said Ellen Bishop, a Labor Department investigator based in Toledo, contacted her last month as part of the investigation. When contacted by a reporter about the inquiry, Ms. Bishop declined to comment.

Doug Phares, publisher of the Register, would not discuss the investigation.

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