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Whitefish Ministry Owes Workers $150,000 in Back Pay

Potter's Field Ministries operated Mudman Burgers in Columbia Falls, MT before closing down after allegations of abuse made in June 2019.
Aaron Bolton
Montana Public Radio
Potter's Field Ministries operated Mudman Burgers in Columbia Falls, MT before closing down after allegations of abuse made in June 2019.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry has found that an embattled Whitefish ministry violated state law by asking its workers to volunteer much of their time serving food at affiliated burger restaurants. Potter’s Field Ministries now owes six workers a combined $150,000.

The state determined the workers at Potter's Field’s Mudman Burgers restaurants labeled as “volunteers” and “interns” are owed back pay. The rulings from earlier this month say agreements workers signed asking them to work 60-plus hour workweeks for as little as $300 per month violated labor laws.

The labor department's decisions apply to six of the workers who filed wage complaints against the ministry. A seventh claim was determined to have no merit. Other wage claims were determined to be outside of the statute of limitations.

Connor Strong is one of the former Mudman Burger workers. He feels validated by the labor department ruling.

"And now we have a third-party stepping in, as well, that’s not just us or victims or people that have been through Potter’s Field. It’s the government, the state government of Montana saying, 'Hey, this is wrong. You’re responsible, you’re guilty.' It’s really reassuring."

The Department of Labor and Industry ruled that Potter’s Field will need to pay roughly $150,000 in past due wages and penalties.

Potter’s Field in-house legal counsel Sharon DiMuro told MTPR the ministry plans to submit new information on the claims as part of a request for the labor department to reduce the payout decision. Once the department issues its decision on that request, Potter’s Field will be able to formally appeal.

Outside of a recently reopened and now for-profit Mudman Burgers in Columbia Falls Friday a handful of protestors stood holding signs reading “Never Fund a Cult” and “Workers Drug Through Mud.” Protesters are upset the restaurant has reopened.

Potter’s Field and its three popular burger restaurants in the Flathead Valley closed down after separate worker allegations of psychological and emotional abuse against ministry leaders Mike and Pam Rozell, allegations they have denied via a spokesperson.

Those allegations were reported by Montana Public Radio through interviews with former workers but were not a part of any complaints to the Montana department of labor.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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