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Nawiliwili diving company accused of not paying worker

NAWILIWILI — The logo that Dustin Uhrig designed for Epic Diving Adventures is still featured on the company’s Facebook page.

More than three months after he designed the image, he says he still has not been paid for his work.

He also hasn’t been paid for kayak tours he conducted, or for business cards he designed, or for social media marketing he completed while employed at the Nawiliwili-based company during December 2021.

“This is a lot of hours I spent doing this stuff, from guiding tours to business development to media,” said Uhrig. “I haven’t received pay for any of it.”

Epic Diving Adventures owner Shannon Montalvo acknowledged that Uhrig worked for her and did not contest the fact that she had not paid him, but says he was employed as an independent contractor and has not provided her with an invoice. Uhrig says he was hired under the impression that he would be paid a salary or an hourly wage, and that he provided proof of his hours.

Red flags in the workplace

Uhrig, who has another job as a guide at Outfitters Kaua‘i, responded to an Epic Diving Adventures job post for a nighttime kayak guide last November, hoping to take on some extra part-time work.

During the job interview, Montalvo hired him in an expanded role, doing social media, IT work and design in a position that Uhrig believed would be salaried.

Uhrig’s mom and girlfriend back up his assessment of the situation. His mother Judy Uhrig had been vacationing on Kaua‘i at the time, and met with Montalvo after the interview.

“She hired him on the spot,” said Judy Uhrig. “It seemed like a very positive situation at the time. I didn’t hear anything about any independent contractor situation. That’s not really what he does. He thought he was getting a job.”

After starting his role at Epic Diving, Uhrig noticed red flags in the workplace.

Uhrig said that Montalvo would get upset at him and another worker for not selling spots in a camp for keiki that he says the company was unprepared to host.

“She had no way to get people around, no permits, no food lined up for people,” said Uhrig. “If we had started taking in kids it would have been a huge liability. That was sketchy, and she was rushing us to do it.”

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources requires that all operators of commercial vessels and watersports equipment obtain commercial use permits.

The DNLR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation reported that Epic Diving Adventures did not have a valid commercial use permit. DOBOR said the company informed them they were acting as a booking agent for Sea Sport Divers rather than an independent commercial operator.

Under this classification, DLNR said, they would not be allowed to conduct guided kayak tours and that “tours provided by the company would be considered as illegal commercial activity.”

DNLR said while “they can act as a concierge (or) booking agent for a legitimate business that has a commercial use permit,” “they would also not have the ability to hire independently.”

Uhrig also said that he was instructed by Montalvo to conduct multiple kayak tours without permits, though he was not sure if the tours had been for-profit or not.

Montalvo said in April that the keiki camp had not come to fruition, and declined to answer any more questions about permitting.

Almost 50 hours and no pay

Because of the permitting concerns and a disagreement over a social media post, Uhrig quit the job in late December. At this point, Uhrig had been working for nearly a month and was yet to have received payment.

Texts between the pair show Montalvo stating that Uhrig would be paid through Zelle or Venmo, and show Uhrig providing his Venmo information along with a list of his hours and services provided.

He estimated that the total wages owed to him were at least $960 for 50 hours of work.

Montalvo texted him that the hours were “a little off,” though she did not elaborate or explain further.

Other messages showed Montalvo repeatedly saying that Uhrig would be paid soon, and Uhrig responding that he had not received any payments.

“I don’t have any information to pay him an hourly wage or a salary of any kind,” said Montalvo in a phone interview, reporting that Uhrig had never filled out paperwork.

Uhrig said that no payment information had been requested of him other than his Venmo account.

Montalvo maintained that if Uhrig provides a more formal invoice she will compensate him, though not for the full amount he requested.

“I’m willing to pay him for 15 hours,” said Montalvo. “The IT people that I show this to say that it wouldn’t even take 20 minutes. I don’t care. I just want this to be over.”

During the interview, Montalvo abruptly hung up and did not respond to further calls.

The situation could be an example of wage theft, a broad category that includes simply not paying workers, paying less than minimum wage, not paying overtime, not allowing breaks, requiring off-the-clock work or taking workers’ tips.

A study from the Economic Policy Institute shows the U.S. Department of Labor recovered more than $3 billion in stolen wages between 2017 and 2020.

The problem is likely much larger, with another study from EPI estimating that workers throughout the country lose $15 billion annually from minimum wage violations alone — more than the total of all stolen money from physical burglaries in the United States combined.

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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