Homeowner Risks Foreclosure Over A Couple Thousand Dollars

Ricardo worked at a few properties for a subcontractor. He toiled for hours on cabinetry in a TV & sound room at one home and improving kitchen fixtures at another.

Although Ricardo was shorted hours on all jobs for this subcontractor, he was treated well and paid on time, so he continued working.

Ricardo is married with 3 daughters, and although his wife works, their combined $28,000 annual salary is stretched thin across rent, food and clothing. He couldn’t afford to rock the boat by demanding to be paid for all his hours and to take all his meal & rest breaks.

Assuming the bounced check was a clerical error, Ricardo contacted the subcontractor, explained what happened and politely requested a new check. However, the subcontractor refused to pay Ricardo and soon stopped returning his calls.

At that point, Ricardo contacted Wage Justice and we evaluated his claim for the bounced check. We also analyzed the back hours that weren’t paid and the denied meal & rest breaks. We determined that work on two of the many properties met all the criteria for a Mechanic’s Lien, and we recorded Mechanic’s Liens on these two properties. Our Liens included all hours worked and unpaid, as well as the meal & rest break penalties and the bounced check payment.

Because the fees for Mechanic’s Liens spiked this year, we wrapped in the $360 in recording fees into our wage demand. The Wage Justice Center paid for the initial recording fees ($95/property to initially record and again $95/property to remove the Lien).

Shortly after we recorded the Liens, the General Contractor on the Venice property contacted our legal team and took responsibility. He is licensed and he employed the subcontractor who hired Ricardo. He shared that he had been contacted by the angry homeowner about the Lien and he’d addressed it with the subcontractor, who had admitted to not paying Ricardo. At all times, the General Contractor was respectful of Ricardo’s work and – unlike many licensed and unlicensed contractors – he did not dispute that Ricardo completed the work, he did not disparage the quality of Ricardo’s work and he did not question the immigration status of the worker.

We appreciated this General Contractor’s respect and diligence. Because of this General Contractor’s adherence and respect for the law, ​Ricardo quickly recovered his wages from that job.

Unfortunately, the Hancock Park homeowner initially refused to pay, forcing us to file a new and separate foreclosure lawsuit 90 days after the original Lien was recorded. He subsequently engaged his attorney, who advised on unrelated issues, who worked hard to impress upon his client that, in fact, he would be forced to sell his home over approximately $2,000. After weeks of fruitful negotiations with the homeowner and their attorney, we recovered Ricardo’s back wages.

Unfortunately, the recalcitrance of the Hancock Park homeowner is not an aberration. In the last year, we’ve seen a spike by 75% of homeowners refusing to pay within 90 days of the recording of the Lien. We believe in this era of emboldened property owners, that people are willing to take their chances and draw out the legal process in order to evade their responsibility and payment.

Wage Justice is not deterred by these stall tactics. We’re pursuing economic justice for all our clients, no matter how much work it takes!

A Night Under The Stars!

To help pay tribute to these inspiring leaders, you can buy your tickets or sponsor the event online or you can download our Gala Sponsorship Packages to mail in your contribution.

The deadline for sponsorship listing and ads in our Tribute Journal is August 20, 2018.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Kerith Dilley at 213.291.6883 or kerith@wagejustice.org

Celebrate the Accomplishments of Nancy Smyth, An Le, Victor Narro & Bryan Schwartz!

Join Wage Justice on Wednesday, September 5, festivities starting at 6pm, to thank economic justice heroes for their leadership.

Rebecca Brown and Bob Rasmussen have generously opened their home in Hancock Park to host the event. Rebecca and Bob are USC Gould School of Law Professors, where they have nurtured, mentored and empowered emerging public interest lawyers to effect change in our communities.

The Wage Justice Center is proud to recognize the accomplishments of four important leaders:

Attorney Advocate Award: Bryan Schwartz, Esq., of Bryan Schwartz Law

Sirolly/Yee Founders’ Award: An Le, Victor Narro & Nancy Smyth,
Wage Justice Center Founding Board Members

To buy tickets or sponsor the event, please click here

Victor Narro, Sirolly/Yee Founders’ Award

A nationally known expert on immigrant rights and low-wage workers, Victor Narro has been involved with immigrant rights and labor issues for over 30 years. Currently Project Director for the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, Victor’s focus is to provide leadership programs and policy campaign support for Los Angeles’ immigrant workers, policy and campaign planning for unions and worker centers, and internship opportunities for UCLA students.

Victor is core faculty for the Labor and Workplace Studies Program at UCLA and Lecturer in Law at UCLA Law School, where he teaches Community Lawyering and Low Wage Worker Organizing.

Victor was formerly the Co-Executive Director of Sweatshop Watch. Prior to that, he was the Workers’ Rights Project Director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) where he was involved with organizing day laborers, domestic workers, garment workers and gardeners. Before his tenure at CHIRLA, Victor worked in the Los Angeles Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). Among his many board memberships, Victor is a proud member of the Executive Board of the National Lawyers Guild – LA Chapter.

Victor is happily married to Laureen Lazarovici, a long-time labor activist and journalist.

An Le, Sirolly/Yee Founders’ Award

As the daughter of refugees from Vietnam, An Le was shaped by the labor exploitation she witnessed at a young age, prompting her to pursue a career committed to using comprehensive strategies to achieve justice and dignity for low-wage immigrant workers.

Along those lines, she had the privilege to work as a legal organizer for the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, a research analyst for SEIU-United Service Workers West, and as a project director of community engagement at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles.

She is currently a research analyst for SEIU-UHW, where she uses legal, regulatory, and policy strategies to support worker organizing efforts in California’s health care industry.

She proudly serves on the Board of Directors for the Wage Justice Center and Southeast Asian Community Alliance. An received her B.A. in Political Science from UCLA and her J.D. from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. In her free time, she enjoys sewing, reading, and playing with her dogs, Estelle and Butler.

Nancy Smyth, Sirolly/Yee Founders’ Award

Nancy is a California native whose parents hail from West Virginia and Northern Ireland. She has been an activist and social change agent for almost 40 years. Working as an organizer, a lawyer, and now a leadership coach, she has pioneered groundbreaking projects that have led to real change in people’s lives. Her career has included organizing workers in the underground economy, promoting policies that expand the rights of workers and immigrants, and legal advocacy on behalf of people re-entering the workforce after serving time. From establishing the first day laborer program in the country to creating workers’ rights projects at Public Counsel, CHIRLA, and Neighborhood Legal Services, she has dedicated her work to building power in communities and workplaces.

While at USC Gould School of Law, Nancy’s passion for workers’ rights was ignited by her involvement with the Labor Defense Network (which ran wage theft clinics across Los Angeles) and with CHIRLA, where she was instrumental in helping to beat back two anti-day laborer ordinances in Los Angeles and Glendale. She helped found CARECEN and Sweatshop Watch, and while at CHIRLA, she pioneered the Domestic worker Project where organizers and domestic workers agitated for better wages and working conditions and created their own superhero, SuperDomestica.

Nancy has spent the last ten years as the Leadership Development Director and internal coach for both LAANE and the Partnership for Working Families as well as doing outside coaching and consulting. Nancy sees coaching as a powerful tool for personal growth that is essential to building a compassionate and courageous social justice movement.

Nancy lives in Los Angeles, California and speaks English and Spanish. She loves to travel, garden, swim, and read Swedish detective novels.

Bryan Schwartz, Esq. of Bryan Schwartz Law, Attorney Advocate Award:

Bryan has advanced the field of workers’ rights and in private practice, he embodies public interest values. Bryan brings cases on behalf of low-wage workers and then persistently pursues justice while the employer pulls every shady tactic in the book. His signature case is the class action and wrongful termination case Amanda Quiles, Heather Turman, et al. v. Koji’s Japan, Inc. and Arthur J. Parent, Jr.

This is a classic tale of unscrupulous employer tactics: After Bryan filed the class action suit, the employer immediately fired the named plaintiff, and later closed all of his restaurants and filed for personal and corporate bankruptcy. Over more than seven years, Bryan and his firm secured back wages, damages, penalties, fees and costs from the individual employer after victories in bankruptcy court, a bench trial, a jury trial, at the Court of Appeal, and in collections proceedings.

The published decision in Turman v. Superior Court stands for the proposition that an individual owner, officer, and director can be personally liable for California wage violations.

He has developed a niche in Federal employees’ unique claims, and has led multi-plaintiff, class and collective actions involving overtime and other wage violations under state and federal laws across the country.

Before founding his own firm in 2009, Bryan led the San Francisco, CA, office of Nichols Kaster, PLLP. Previously, Mr. Schwartz practiced with the Washington, DC-based firm of Passman & Kaplan, PC, and clerked for the late Hon. Franklin Van Antwerpen, formerly a member of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Schwartz is a former member of the Executive Board of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA) and a current member of the Board of Directors of Legal Aid at Work.

After graduating from Cornell University and before law school at the UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall, Mr. Schwartz was a Federal Investigator (bilingual-Spanish) at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a campaign manager, and a school teacher in Costa Rica.

Among his many philanthropic endeavors, he is co-chair of the dads’ club at his daughter’s public school.

Corporate Shell Games Played by Port Trucking Companies to Cheat Workers

USA Today Network continues its deep investigation into industry-wide norms that contribute to wage theft in the port trucking industry.

This current report uncovered what we experienced securing justice for over 200 workers in our landmark QTS case: port trucking companies in Southern California play corporate shell games to cheat workers out of collecting wage theft judgments. They also try to use bankruptcy protection to dodge the punishment that labor court judges have handed down.

We again see that for many companies, wage theft is not a one-off clerical mistake, but rather a business model that drives full-time workers into poverty.

Read the report here.

Cheers to 10 Years of Wage Justice!

Join us Wednesday, October 4, from 6-8:30pm, at Angel City Brewery (216 S. Alameda, LA, CA 90015).

We’re proud to recognize the accomplishments of two important leaders in our community:

Sirolly/Yee Founders’ Award: USC Gould School of Law

Pro Bono Attorney Award: Nina Baumler, Esq.

We’re excited to unveil our Founders’ Award this year! We named the award after our inspiring and visionary leaders, Matthew Sirolly and Melvin Yee, for their leadership and dedication to the cause of workers’ rights in California. They saw an unmet need – workers who “won” judgments but have not collected a single penny – and rather than just hope someone else would see it too, they launched a movement to put money in the hands of the workers who earned it.

Click here to buy your tickets or sponsor the event.

COURT APPROVES LANDMARK $5 MILLION SETTLEMENT OF CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT ON BEHALF OF PORT TRUCK DRIVERS

LOS ANGELES, CA – Last week, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) and Wage Justice Center secured final approval of a $5 million class action settlement brought on behalf of over 400 Latino and Korean immigrants against a port trucking company comprised of related corporate entities. Port truck drivers are the backbone of a $450 billion industry in Southern California.

“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. The settlement is the first to successfully attack a 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.”

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. 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 to eke out a living.

“The company took money from my paycheck to pay for the truck lease, gas and insurance. Some of my fellow truckers even owed money to the company at the end of a hard week. But over 50 of us drivers stuck together for the last five years, despite being fired and intimidated,” says Samuel Talavera Jr., a former driver for QTS, Inc. “We knew we would help our fellow truckers if we stayed together down this long road.”

Judge Elihu M. Berle of the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled on the motion for final approval of the class settlement. Of the 423 drivers contacted, 243 filed claims representing 82.8% of the total work weeks where violations occurred. Drivers will receive an average of $13,502 each. The settlement also includes up to $7,500 to drivers who the companies retaliated against for asserting their legal rights. Forms of retaliation ranged from refusing to repair drivers’ trucks, being assigned less lucrative routes, and outright firing. For those drivers publicly involved in the litigation, who risked being blacklisted in the industry, an additional $6,500 will be awarded for their efforts.

During four years of litigation, QTS, Inc. filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, nominally to “reorganize” its debts, but in reality to frustrate the ongoing litigation and evade any responsibility for its debts. “The defendants in this case filed for bankruptcy to try to avoid paying our drivers their hard-earned wages,” said Jay Shin, Directing 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.”

In a novel move, the drivers transferred their state court litigation into bankruptcy court by suing the non-bankrupt entities as creditors of the voluntarily abandoned and bankrupt entity. They asked the bankruptcy court to consolidate the assets and debts of all the entangled business enterprises. The parties reached the current settlement after 18 months of litigation in bankruptcy court entailing the subpoena of the defendants’ major customers, review of tens of thousands of pages of documents and deposition of the officers of the business entities.

USA Today Sheds Light on Wage Theft in Port Trucking

USA Today Network investigated industry-wide factors that contribute to wage theft in the port trucking industry.  This report uncovered what we knew to be true from our landmark QTS case:  port trucking companies in Southern California forced drivers to finance their own trucks by taking on debt they could not afford. Companies then used that debt as leverage to extract forced labor and trap drivers in jobs that left them destitute. Wage theft is not a one-off clerical mistake, but rather a business model that drives full-time workers into poverty.

Read the report here.

KCRW Covers Wage Theft in the Restaurant Industry

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:

Victory by Truckeros, Wage Justice and Asian Americans Advancing Justice

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:

Hundreds of Port Truck Drivers Settle Landmark Class-Action Lawsuit for $5 Million

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 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.”