Zurik: Employees say airport contractor forced them to commit unemployment fraud

Employees say managers told them to claim a portion of their hours from the company and the rest from unemployment
Updated: Sep. 1, 2020 at 9:55 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A group of workers for a national airport services contractor say their employer forced them to work their full schedule but claim unemployment for a portion of their paycheck.

The workers for GAT Airline Ground Support, some of whom left the company to avoid committing fraud, said they would be scheduled for their full hours but were told to only clock in for a portion of that time and claim the rest of the hours through unemployment. At that time, the state’s unemployment program was enhanced with a $600 federal stimulus to aid in unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GAT is an Atlanta-based company with nearly 70 locations in the United States and Canada, including Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. In New Orleans, the company provides ground support for certain airlines, like cleaning planes, servicing ramps, and loading and unloading luggage.

“It’s basically double-dipping,” one employee said. “For someone to ask you to commit fraud and once you don’t commit it, you lose your job. So it’s very devastating.”

Another employee, Jarvion Gould, said she left to avoid committing fraud.

For the last week of June, GAT paid Gould for just six hours of work, even though she says she worked at least twenty hours.

“I’ve actually been approached when I was there more than one actual manager asking me to work off the clock,” Gould said.

Instead of putting the entire week’s worth of work on her timesheet, she said her supervisor told her to file for unemployment to collect the rest of her paycheck.

“I walked away,” she said.

With the state’s unemployment rate now around 13 percent according to Department of Labor statistics, Gould is now struggling to find work.

Another person who did not want to be identified because they still work as an aircraft cabin cleaner for GAT.

“I got back to work July 1 and I was told we would still be getting the unemployment but we wouldn’t be clocking in our full hours,” the person said.

For two weeks, July 14-27, GAT paid this person for about nine hours of work, but during that stretch, we uncovered the employee worked at least 42 hours.

FOX 8 obtained key card logs from the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport showing...
FOX 8 obtained key card logs from the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport showing when employees of GAT were supposed to be on the clock.(WVUE-TV)

FOX 8 requested key card records from the airport, which are used by employees to access secure areas of the airport. The documents were redacted for security reasons but do show when the cards were used, indicating an employee that is working.

We found the employee accessed doors around 42 different hours, even though GAT paid the employee for just nine hours of work. For example, on July 14, the employee arrived around 9 a.m. and last used a key card six hours after 3 p.m.

Four other employees had similar claims of the company paying them for a portion of their worked hours and filing for unemployment for the rest. Their claims were also backed up by company paystubs, unemployment payment stubs and airport door access logs.

Despite working a full schedule, GAT employees were told only claim a portion of their schedule...
Despite working a full schedule, GAT employees were told only claim a portion of their schedule on the company payroll and file for the rest under unemployment, which landed them a $600 federal stimulus.(WVUE-TV)

At the time of this alleged fraud, the employees were filing for unemployment when a $600 federal stimulus was available to support those unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One employee received about a hundred dollars from the state in benefits, but also qualified for the stimulus, giving them more than they would have made on a GAT paycheck.

Tulane Labor Law Professor Joel Friedman said if employees are being instructed to file for unemployment instead of being pay by the company, it’s against the law.

“Taking money from people who desperately need it and giving it to people under false pretenses is just horrible,” Friedman said.

On July 31, FOX 8 started requesting records from the airport about GAT employees. Eight days later, GAT sent a letter to the Louisiana Workforce Commission writing about potential ’inappropriate unemployment compensation claims’ involving a ’company supervisor’ recording fewer hours on company timesheets than were actually worked by GAT employees. They said, ’If true, these actions were not authorized by GAT.”

None of the GAT employees we interviewed said the corporate office had knowledge of this -- they say the orders came from local supervisors.

But some former employees say the actions of a former supervisor has them out of work.

“I cannot provide for my family like I used to,” one employee who left the company said.

GAT received $27 Million in CARES Act funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation's...
GAT received $27 Million in CARES Act funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation's allocation to airline support companies.(WVUE-TV)

On the national level, GAT received $27 Million in CARES Act Money from the U.S. Department of Transportation marked for ’Payroll Support’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, a GAT spokesperson said:

GAT recently learned that some employees working at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport may have underreported the hours they worked in order to qualify for unemployment benefits. This underreporting was in no way sanctioned or approved by GAT, and any GAT employees who suggested that individuals engage in this fraudulent activity will face disciplinary measures, including possible termination. We have already terminated several individuals who we believe either were responsible for the behavior or aware of it and should have, at a minimum, corrected it.

As soon as GAT became aware of this situation, we launched an investigation, both internally and by independent outside investigators, and took measures to stop these violations of company policy. GAT has self-reported this potential underpayment of wages to relevant federal and state authorities. The ongoing pandemic has greatly affected our business, but we remain focused on bringing back to work as many of our valued employees as possible and will always pay them for the work they do.

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