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Wage-Hour Cops Regain Power to Subpoena Companies in Pay Probes

July 29, 2019, 8:06 PM

Labor Department investigators across the country quickly regained the power to subpoena companies suspected of shortchanging their workers after new wage and hour chief Cheryl Stanton revoked various authorities, sources tell Bloomberg Law.

Stanton in May restored subpoena authority to field offices, just days after she revoked it, sources inside the department said. Stanton had briefly rescinded the regional investigators’ power to directly issue demands for documents and other evidence after she was confirmed by the Senate in late April.

The delegation streamlines a key tool for investigators looking into possible minimum wage and overtime violations, according to the sources. It comes as Democrats in Congress are raising concerns about Stanton’s move to strip regional investigators of a variety of previously delegated authority. That includes the power to debar from federal contracts and immigration visa programs companies busted for wage violations.

“Such steps rescinding authority from staff are seemingly unprecedented at WHD and raise serious questions about your commitment to rigorously enforcing federal laws that protect working people from being cheated out of their full wages earned,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) wrote in a July 25 letter to Stanton. Murray is the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, while DeLauro chairs a House subcommittee with power of DOL funding.

Stanton in a May memo to senior WHD officials said she was revoking all delegations of power made before she joined the department. The entire scope of power previously delegated remains unclear. Although a DOL official said subpoenas were “exempt from the revocation email,” others said the subpoena power was initially revoked and then redelegated to field offices.

Stanton also recently limited the Wage and Hour Division’s involvement in the processing of visas for undocumented immigrants. Regional DOL offices will now refer requests for U and T visas to law enforcement agencies before determining whether a visa seeker is the victim of a crime covered by the programs.

Democrats Want Info

Murray and DeLauro asked Stanton to describe the powers that have been rescinded and detail investigator requests for her approval to use those tools following the revocation. The lawmakers want Stanton to explain the process by which investigators can seek U and T visas, as well as subpoenas, debarments, civil money penalties, and “enhanced compliance agreements” from employers accused of wage and hour violations.

It’s reasonable that Stanton would want to pause certain delegations, said Alfred Robinson, a management-side attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Washington. Robinson, who served as acting WHD administrator in the George W. Bush administration, said the move is likely getting more attention now because it comes in the middle of President Donald Trump’s first term, rather than during the transition from the Obama administration.

“It makes sense that you want to see what’s going on and understand who the players are,” Robinson said. “It would be less noticeable during the transition because you’re between the two administrations.”

Adam Pulver, a Public Citizen lawyer who worked in the DOL solicitor’s office in the Obama administration, said the move could send the wrong signal to career investigators.

“For the field to be able to do its job effectively, investigators need to understand that D.C. is respecting them and trusting them,” Pulver said. “This suggests that an outsider that has never worked at the DOL before doesn’t trust them, which could lead to a crisis of confidence.”

—With assistance from Jaclyn Diaz

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Cynthia Harasty at; Martha Mueller Neff at