Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

SDC Has Not Paid Its Former Employees

Employees seek answers. 'The board feels horrible.'

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - May 22nd, 2024 12:48 pm
This sign states that the SDC’s mission is to move Milwaukee County residents beyond poverty. Yet for some former SDC employees who have not received paychecks, the agency has not lived up to its goals. (NNS file photo)

This sign states that the SDC’s mission is to move Milwaukee County residents beyond poverty. Yet for some former SDC employees who have not received paychecks, the agency has not lived up to its goals. (NNS file photo)

Jautone Ferguson says she is still owed two paychecks from her former employer, the Social Development Commission, or SDC, which suspended its operations and laid off its entire staff at the end of April.

By not paying employees like Ferguson for work they performed, experts say the SDC is in conflict with Wisconsin wage payment laws.

This also means that Ferguson, who worked in one of SDC’s lead hazard programs, is in a tough situation.

“I have a car note. I am a single mother. And now, I need to go talk to my landlord,” she said.

Ferguson is looking for work locally but also is considering moving out of state.

She and other former SDC workers are left in limbo while the SDC Board of Commissioners works to determine how to move the troubled agency forward. The quasi-governmental community action agency, managed approximately 30 programs and employed 85 people.

The Board of Commissioners met Thursday evening to discuss how to restart some of SDC’s programs, and before going into closed session, board chair Barbara Toles said the commissioners would discuss a plan to pay employees who are owed pay.

But no clear answers have been given yet.

“When SDC first learned that there was a problem with payroll, the Board of Commissioners decided to pay the lowest-paid employees first, knowing that it couldn’t pay all employees and that included the program management staff,” said William Sulton, the SDC’s attorney.

Sarah Woods, a former youth and family services supervisor at SDC, sees an irony in the situation.

“One of SDC’s slogans was to help people ‘move beyond poverty’ – except in this situation, they moved people into poverty,” Woods said.

What does the law say?

Laid-off employees have a range of legal rights and protections, said John Leppanen, an attorney practicing employment law in Milwaukee at Hawks Quindel law firm.

According to Wisconsin’s wage payment laws, if a person is laid off before the end of a pay period that they would have worked otherwise, then a paycheck is owed to them by the day they would have regularly been paid.

Ferguson said she should have received a check on April 30, as well as a check on May 15 for three additional days that she worked.

Ferguson said she has received neither of those two checks.

As a supervisor, Woods has been unpaid for even longer.

Woods said she received her last paycheck on March 29, which means she has three missing paychecks.

‘Something that will be solved’

Sulton said that it’s true that SDC did not pay former employees by the time it should have, but the board is working on a plan to fix this.

“Ultimately, the Board of Commissioners decided to pause the organization’s operations to deal specifically with this issue,” Sulton said.

“A top priority for the Board of Commissioners is ensuring that folks get paid,” he added.

The board is pursuing a range of avenues to make that happen, Sulton said, including seeking out money SDC is owed, submitting funding requests and pursuing loan opportunities.

Sulton said he has heard stories about former employees having trouble paying their bills in the meantime.

“I feel horrible about that, and the board feels horrible about that,” he said.

Sulton wants employees to understand that the Board of Commissioners did not run the day-to-day operations of SDC.

“The Board of Commissioners learned about this problem just as the employees learned about this problem, and there hasn’t been a week that’s gone by that the Board of Commissioners have not met about this subject in an effort to try to solve it,” he said.

“And we believe that this is something that will be solved,” he added.

What can former employees do?

A typical avenue available to former employees who have not been paid for time that they worked is to file a claim with the Labor Standards bureau within the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, or DWD, said Leppanen.

People can file a claim either online or by mail.

Ferguson said she filed a claim about two weeks ago.

Sulton confirmed that on Thursday, he received paperwork from the DWD regarding wage claims.

Resolving a claim through DWD’s Labor Standards bureau does not happen overnight, said Leppanen. Each claim must follow the bureau’s investigatory process.

The bureau will typically notify the employer of the complaint fairly quickly – within a week or two, Leppanen said.

“After that,” he added, “it’s hard to say.”

“Some employers pay immediately. Others go through the investigation process, which usually takes several weeks or possibly a couple of months, and pay when Labor Standards makes a finding that wages are owed,” Leppanen said. If employers still don’t pay, the Circuit Court process can take a long time.

Meanwhile, Ferguson said she needs money now.

“I have bills to pay, and I have no savings,” she said.

For more information

Sulton said that former employees and the general public can reach out to his office with questions at

Devin Blake is the criminal justice reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. His position is funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, which plays no role in editorial decisions in the NNS newsroom.

The SDC has not paid its former employees. Now they seek answers. was originally published by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us