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Payment conflicts within tour company result in protest

Posted: September 8, 2011 - 12:07am
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Juneau Police Officer Tracy Murphy speaks with protestors Marcus Johnson and Jennifer Wilson on Wednesday outside Adventures Unlimited.
Juneau Police Officer Tracy Murphy speaks with protestors Marcus Johnson and Jennifer Wilson on Wednesday outside Adventures Unlimited.

A pair of protesters caught many eyes Wednesday on a busy Franklin Street across from the Mount Roberts Tramway station. Marcus Johnson and his girlfriend, Jennifer Wilson, brandished signs asking passersby not to support Adventures Unlimited. He says the company refuses to pay him the complete wages he earned as a tour broker.

Johnson was an independent contractor, to be paid on a commission basis. He said Adventures Unlimited owes him commission from when he recently worked there. He also said the company won’t provide documentation of his sales.

“All I want to do is get paid the money that I’ve earned. I don’t want anything more and anything less,” he said.

Johnson said there have been disagreements with the company on amounts owed. He showed his two checks, one dated Aug. 23 for $821.32 with the word “June” blacked out in the information line. He said this indicates his employers knew they were behind in payment. Another check dated Sept. 5 was for $243.19. Johnson said they owe him more, which is why he wants documentation.

Johnson said this is his second year working for the tour bookers. He said he believes he was paid in full last year but has no documentation to back it up.

“I look at it as if there’s nothing to hide, why can’t they sit down and show me the paperwork,” said Johnson.

Johnson said his agreement with the tour company was verbal and not written.

Adventures Unlimited, however, contends Johnson is not owed more money at this point and this protest stems from a disagreement over how he left.

Adventures Unlimited Manager Pamela Harper said he was fired after selling his own tours, Alaska Eagle Tours and Alaska Smart Tours, inside the Adventures Unlimited booth. She said this violates the City and Borough of Juneau permit, which reads, “Permittee shall not sell, or permit to be sold, tours on any vouchers or receipts other than their own.”

Harper said she informed him the company has frozen his assets until the billing for the different tours can be settled. She said the company has reviewed this and determined at this point they have paid the correct amount until they get the matter settled.

Harper said mixing his tours with Adventures Unlimited’s has caused a huge conflict for both parties.

“He has not been paid in full and I have to get with some of these other companies to figure out who owes who,” said Adventures Unlimited’s owner, Larry Dupler.

Harper also said the company isn’t legally obligated to provide the sales documentation to him.

“He’s an independent contractor, which means he should have kept track of paperwork himself,” she said.

Johnson insists he was not fired and was asked to work additionally on Tuesday. He said that afterward the company stated he was not promised full payment but they would work on it.

Harper said another factor in the argument was a lost check that the company had to verify had not cleared before issuing another.

Dupler is also a whale watching captain with Orca Enterprises, which led to another conflict Wednesday. Orca managing member/owner Carol Pitts said she felt the protesters were handling their cause the wrong way. One argument was against one of their signs that read, “Captain Larry with Orca will not pay me the wages I have earned this summer.” She said this associates Orca with the issue. She said Orca has nothing to do with this and the sign is slanderous.

She said they furthered this impression by being in front of Orca’s building. She said it all gives a misrepresentation that the pair is protesting Orca.

Johnson agreed his quarrel is not with Orca, but said it’s his right to use Dupler’s name with Orca’s on the sign since Dupler is an employee there. He said the sign clearly speaks against Dupler and not Orca. He said that the location was appropriate since it is near Adventures Unlimited’s booth and they were on the sidewalk, which is public property.

Pitts said this is still defamatory to Orca and that creates a problem. She gave the pair a cease-and-desist letter. She said she has consulted an attorney and legal action will follow if they continue.

“Although he’s on public property, slander and disparaging advertising are legal issues,” said Pitts.

Johnson said he plans to continue his protest. He and Wilson said they consulted the police on the legalities of having a peaceful demonstration beforehand. This includes things like staying off private property and not shouting at people.

“I’m exercising freedom of speech and I don’t think people do it as much as they should,” he said.

Wilson supports Johnson in this, saying she’s heard Johnson’s stories from Adventures Unlimited and believes he is in the right.

“We want to let the people know this company is not performing good business practices,” she said. “I hope getting the information out there will change that and they won’t lie to their employees.”

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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