“Judge: ‘Camp’ Can’t Avoid Minimum Wage”
The San Francisco Chronicle, April 30, 2013
A federal judge says a Mill Valley company that takes teenagers hiking, rock climbing and rafting at home and abroad can’t get out of paying its employees minimum wages and overtime by claiming it is an “organized camp.”
Adventures Rolling Cross County doesn’t operate its own campground and is not entitled to an exemption from state or federal wage laws, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen ruled last week.
The decision “could have repercussions throughout the teen tour and travel industry,” said Bryan Schwartz, a lawyer for two employees who lead the youngsters’ expeditions. He said the company charges more than $5,000 on average for each tour but pays the tour leaders about $3 an hour – $5 below California’s minimum wage – plus free food and housing.
The company sponsors about 50 two- to three-week tours a year, mostly between June and August, in the United States and abroad.
Both federal and state laws exempt “organized camps” from minimum wages, on the rationale that the jobs provide supplemental, seasonal income for students and others, and include free room and board.
In claiming the exemption, Adventures Rolling Cross Country said the teens stay overnight in campgrounds on U.S. tours.
The company markets its services through camping fairs and websites and belongs to the American Camp Association, but Chen noted that the firm dropped out of the association in the mid-1990s and rejoined only in February 2012, after the suit was filed.
Under California law, Chen said, an organized camp is an “establishment” that offers programs and facilities for the main purpose of providing an outdoor group living experience. Though the law could be interpreted several ways, he said, the most natural reading covers only organizations that provide their own campgrounds rather than using others’ sites.
Reed Schupper, a lawyer for the company, said Monday the ruling was not the last word in the case, and cited Chen’s comments that the legal issues were far from clear-cut.
San Francisco Chronicle staff writer
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