LITTLE ROCK, AR- A recent investigation into a local business, by the U.S. Department of Labor, finds the company is not compliant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Now, the Conway businesswoman is gaining national attention over an article she wrote for Wednesday morning's issue of USA Today. In the article, Rhea Lana Riner defends her children’s consignment business called Rhea Lana’s, Inc. She says she’s not breaking labor laws, "We are in compliance. We disagree with their position and we believe that the law is on our side."
The U.S. Department of Labor's investigation found Riner's volunteers are in fact employees. Under the FLSA, employees may not volunteer services to For-Profit Private Sector employers. This means Riner would have to pay volunteers the federal minimum wage of 7.25 per hour and fill out IRS paperwork.
“It literally threatens a way of life for thousands of families who have come to depend on seasonal consignment sales,” said Riner.
According to Riner, every bit of help is needed, especially from volunteers, to assist these families at the company’s short term events which are held in 22 states, including Arkansas.
"They're very, very important and it's how we can operate the way we do. It is our business model. They help us set up the sales, look at clothes when they come in and we put them on racks, and greet people,” explains Riner.
We were unable to reach the U.S. Department of Labor Wednesday to find out what prompted the investigation. Denise Oxley with the Arkansas Department of Labor said it launched an investigation into Rhea Lana's in 2012 for the same reasons.
"Rhea Lana's emailed one of our investigators a flier that said 'come volunteer for free at one of our events and you can shop early'," said Oxley. Oxley also mentioned Riner signed a consent agreement to abide by state laws, to not use unpaid volunteers. In the consent agreement, the department outlined two types of unpaid workers which are consignors and volunteers. Both parties agree that the consignors are not employees of Rhea Lana's Inc. or its franchisees. The agreement also states the company will utilize only consignors or workers paid in accordance with the Minimum Wage Act of the State of Arkansas.
Riner said so far she’s had meetings with the U.S. Department of Labor, but at this time doesn’t know what’s next, the process is still unclear.