Timed Out

When the downtown safari corps demanded back pay, the Downtown Partnership told them to turn in their helmets

But it may be illegal for an employer to have its minions punch in and punch out every day without actually using the time cards to tabulate pay.

"If the few minutes at the start and end of the shift were that important to them, we were happy to pay it," concedes Alexander in an attempt to explain the Partnership's settlement.

"We did not dock their pay if they reported a few minutes late, so [we] didn't feel obligated to strictly watch the clock either way, as long as the time difference was minor," she adds, explaining that the time cards were used simply to make sure corps members were on time -- not to calculate precise wages.

Dismissed Courtesy Corps members Amanda Siller, Betsy Cahill and Ashley Ray
Jennifer Silverberg
Dismissed Courtesy Corps members Amanda Siller, Betsy Cahill and Ashley Ray

The DTSLP did indeed pay the ex-Corps members some money, but certainly not the amount sought by the likes of Cahill and Siller, who have been interviewing attorneys to represent them pro bono in a suit seeking undisclosed damages on their behalf. And, according to Cole and U.S. Department of Labor caseworker Robin Carter, they just might prevail if they get their day in court.

"They should be paid for hours actually worked," offers Carter, whose Wage and Hours Division has the authority to force the DTSLP to pay the ex-employees what their independent investigation says they're owed or, if the Partnership refuses, to assign Labor Department own attorneys to take up the case in court on the ex-Corps members' behalf.

"Presumably when you have somebody clock in and agree to pay them by the hour, they should get paid [for their punches]," seconds Cole.

At the end of the day, Cahill and company might have been better served had they made an end run around the DTSLP completely by taking their case straight to the Labor Department in the form of a written grievance, after which the Partnership's response might have been perceived as retaliatory. When asked to consider this hypothetical scenario and whether it could be considered illegal, Cole responds: "Arguably, yeah. But how far is this going to get them? They're not going to get anything [i.e., serious money]."

Cahill lets on that it's more about principle than the benjamins.

"We're not out to sue the damn Partnership for millions of dollars," she explains.

Regardless of how things shake out legally, there's considerable debate among the downtown retail community as to the viability of the Corps, its to-be-determined year-round reincarnation and, for that matter, the DTSLP itself.

For starters, there were those getups.

"They belonged out at the zoo with those safari helmets," says 73-year-old Jack Carl, the longtime, charmingly impish owner of the Two Cents Plain Deli at Eleventh and Olive streets.

"Madelyn was, like, 'Oh, the Downtown Partnership is this big deal in town,'" recalls ex-DCC employee Siller. "When we went out on the job, nobody knew who we were, and nobody cared.

"I personally don't recall any of the things I reported getting fixed. There was a stoplight at Eleventh and Pine that wouldn't get fixed, and I'd report it every day."

But for small business owners such as Downtown Music's Jerry Price, the DCC had a pleasant, if not overwhelming, impact on retail success. Price feels that disbanding the DCC is "one more strike against trying to make downtown viable."

For his part, Carl couldn't care less about the DCC, the Partnership or anyone else, for that matter -- as long as St. Loonies keep mowing down his Reubens.

"They [the DCC] didn't do a damn thing anyway. That goddamn Downtown Partnership thinks that shit up," Carl riffs. "It's not Downtown St. Louis; it's Donetown St. Louis."

Although Carl's prediction may be a smidge bleak for the downtown core as a whole, the Armageddon shoe might fit better on the DTSLP, whose main source of funding -- the CID -- comes up for reauthorization in 2003. Should naysayers such as Carl successfully stymie the signature drive, Alexander won't have to worry about clocks anymore. She won't have the funds to keep 'em ticking.

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