KCRW, a National Public Radio affiliate, is airing an investigative series on workplace injustices in Los Angeles’s restaurant industry. This series airs the entire week of August 1, 2016. The series provides thoughtful, in-depth reporting on the scourge of wage theft. It features coverage of some of Wage Justice’s work (including our victory in the Nem Nuong case) and interview clips with some of Wage Justice’s staff and partner organizations. Check it out online (or on live radio)! See the details here:
The Los Angeles Times and a number of other news outlets covered our clients’ recent victory in Talvera, et al v. QTS, et al.
Check out some of the stories below:
On July 14, 2016, the Wage Justice Center and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) reached a $5 million class action wage and hour settlement on behalf of nearly 400 immigrant Latino and Korean American port truck drivers against a port trucking company comprised of intertwined corporate entities.
“When I chose to stand up and fight for fair wages for myself and my co-workers, I was fired,” says Mariano Saravia, a former driver. “It’s been a long, hard road, but I’m happy that we will see some of our stolen wages, and more importantly, that drivers are no longer held captive by agreements that exploited us in order to benefit the company.”
The company, QTS, Inc., and its related entities including LACA Express and Win Win Logistics misclassified their drivers as independent contractors in order to deny them their rightful compensation, and then hid behind purported bankruptcy protections to avoid liability for wage theft and other exploitative business practices.
The parties reached a settlement after the drivers followed the company into bankruptcy court and asked the court to act in the interest of justice by consolidating the assets of all of the related business entities in order to overcome the company’s disingenuous claims of poverty.
“The settlement is the first to successfully attack this dual scheme of misclassification and corporate shell games that is endemic in the port trucking industry,” stated Nicole Ochi, supervising litigation attorney from Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles. “Unfortunately, misclassification is the port industry norm. Nearly two-thirds of all port truck drivers nationally are misclassified as independent contractors, resulting in an impoverished, mostly immigrant workforce. We are proud that with this settlement, hundreds of drivers will be rightfully compensated, and we hope this case sends a strong signal to other drivers that they can win if they fight back.”
By classifying the drivers as independent contractors but controlling them like employees, companies are able to evade taxes as well as shift all the costs of operating their businesses to the drivers, including the cost of trucks, gas, maintenance and repair, and insurance, leaving drivers with poverty wages. These high weekly deductions operate like debt bondage, forcing the drivers to work dangerously long hours just to eke out a living.
“The trucking company dictated how much I got paid, which loads I took, and from whom, yet they denied that I was their employee,” says Victor Vitela, a former driver for QTS, Inc. “I was forced to work 80 or more hours per week, sacrificing my health and my family relationships in order to make just a few hundred dollars after all the expenses they took out of my paycheck.”
“The defendants in this case filed for bankruptcy to try to avoid paying our drivers their hard-earned wages,” said Jay Shin, senior staff attorney at Wage Justice Center. “But we were not ready to concede the millions of dollars stolen from our drivers. We doggedly followed them into bankruptcy court and used innovative legal theories to hold the companies liable.”
The Toronto Star published an article discussing the fight against wage theft in Canada’s largest city, which faces sadly similar problems to those that Southern Californians have long been struggling to overcome. The article mentions the difficult fight faced by one of the Wage Justice Center’s clients, Minor. Check out the article below:
The Wage Justice Center, representing California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su, reached a $190,000 settlement for three workers who were victims of wage theft while employed at a Rosemead restaurant, Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa. The settlement comes after the owners faced a lawsuit for fraudulently transferring the restaurant’s ownership to avoid paying the workers their back pay.
The Labor Commissioner’s Office teamed up with the Wage Justice Center to file a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in June 2015 against the three owners and their corporations to enforce payment of the August 2013 orders.
The Wage Justice Center is a nonprofit legal services organization that specializes in unraveling corporate schemes by employers, and holding them accountable for wage theft.
“This settlement shows that employers who cheat can run but can’t hide,” said Labor Commissioner Julie Su. “Corporate shell games like these are common responses to wage judgments, deprive workers of wages they rightly deserve, and we will take every measure to stop them.”
The three employees, who worked as kitchen staff, regularly worked 12-hour shifts, six days per week with no overtime, meal periods, or rest breaks. They were paid $875 to $900 twice per month, with no pay stubs detailing their hours or lawful deductions. Each of the workers filed wage claims in May 2012 and January 2013, and won judgments in September 2013 ordering the owners to pay wages owed as well as liquidated damages and penalties.
As a result of the lawsuit settlement, the owners delivered a cashier’s check for $150,000 to the Labor Commissioner’s Office to pay the three workers’ back wages. The other $40,000 owed will be paid in six installments beginning August 1.
See the official press release here: http://www.dir.ca.gov/DIRNews/2016/2016-59.pdf
Mark your calendars! The Wage Justice Center cordially invites you to our annual garden party on May 15, 2016. We enjoy the opportunity for our staff, Board Members, funders, community advocates, clients and supporters to mingle and build connections. We are especially honored to have Kevin Kish, Director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, as this year’s featured speaker.
More details and a formal invitation to follow, but for now, SAVE THE DATE!!
Check out this short film on Wage Theft by Brave New Films.
On Sunday, October 11, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed an historic worker’s rights bill into law. SB 588, the Fair Day’s Pay Act, will give millions of dollars back to working individuals and their families by cracking down on wage theft.
Wage theft is a pervasive trend of our times in the low-wage industries where many low-wage and immigrant workers toil. It is the illegal practice of not paying workers for all, or any, of their work.
While California has some of the most protective laws in the country, low-wage workers are not immune to wage theft. In Los Angeles alone, low-wage workers lose $26.2 million in wage theft violations every week, making it the wage theft capital of the country.
Under previous state law, employers could get out of paying employees stolen wages in many different ways, by exploiting loopholes in existing law. For over three years, the Wage Justice Center, along with 60 other organizations across California, fought to pass a bill that would close these loopholes in existing state labor laws.
The Fair Day’s Pay Act creates new tools needed to put stolen wages back into workers’ pockets. It also sends a strong message to employers that California supports its workers, their families, and businesses that play by the rules rather than exploit the system.
The Wage Justice Center is looking forward to implementing the Fair Day’s Pay Act in order to ensure that all California workers are paid fairly.
The Los Angeles Times recently published an important article highlighting some of the root causes of the current wage theft crisis. Quoting the Wage Justice Center’s director, the article discusses the rampant problem of shell corporations: