Federal lawsuits over wage and hour violations are up since the start of the recession.
Federal lawsuits over wage and hour violations are up since the start of the recession. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: An interesting item crossed our desks here this morning in the 'how much people work and how much they get paid for it?' department. A memo from a union president telling his members, "You have to file for every dime the contract says the company owes you." Basically, don't work a minute over 40 hours without getting paid for it.

We asked Mitchell Hartman to find out whether people not getting paid for overtime is a trend in this post-recession economy.

Mitchell Hartman: There definitely is a trend. More federal lawsuits filed over alleged wage and hour violations -- 30 percent more since 2008, almost four times as many since 2000.

Barry Miller is a partner at the law firm Seyfarth Shaw that crunched the numbers. They represent employers.

Barry Miller: And certainly the economy plays into that. Because you have a lot more people who are out of work. And the longer it takes somebody to find a new job, the more likely they are to sue.

Cathy Ruckelshaus is legal director at the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for employees. She thinks there are more violations now -- managers pressuring workers to put in extra time off the clock to finish up jobs and increase productivity.

Cathy Ruckelshaus: Workers sort of grinning and bearing it. It’s always hard for workers who are still working at an employer to come forward and complain or even to ask about pay discrepancies or long hours, because they fear losing their jobs.

Southern California warehouse worker David Acosta is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit alleging wage theft and failure to pay overtime. He says he and fellow workers were paid at minimum wage or below, and never got overtime -- even when the warehouse was busy and they worked from 6 a.m. to 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock at night. We reached him at home on his day off.

David Acosta: I mostly did it because of my family. We also we had this fear where if we complained we would often see the repercussions where our paychecks would actually be short.

We did not receive a response to the allegations in this lawsuit from the warehouse companies, by our deadline.

Employment lawyer Barry Miller notes that wage and hour lawsuits are up in both federal and state courts, especially in California, New York and Massachusetts.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

Follow Mitchell Hartman at @entrepreneurguy