Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘unpaid wages’

West Coast Truckers Poised to Strike, Say They’re Owed Nearly $1 Billion in Stolen Wages

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Mario VasquezLess than two months after participating in a strike against trucking companies allegedly committing wage theft at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a supermajority of drivers at Intermodal Bridge Transport (IBT) are poised to strike in order to pressure IBT into correcting their alleged misclassification as independent contractors.

IBT, which moves merchandise for Sony, Toyota, General Electric, Target and JC Penney, among others, is a subsidiary of the Chinese Government-owned COSCO Logistics Americas network and employes 88 drivers, according to the union supporting driver efforts, Teamsters Local 848.

The drivers contest that their status as independent contractors is wrong and creates wage theft that amounts to almost $1 billion yearly in California alone, according to estimates by local allies.

Although IBT provides the vehicle that truckers drive (which is standard in an employer-employee relationship), IBT has a leasing arrangement with the drivers to pass along the costs of business on to them. “They deduct reparations, they deduct diesel fuel, they deduct anything they see convenient from the paycheck,” explains Humberto Canales of a fellow trucking company, XPO Logistics.

Their alleged misclassification as independent contractors makes the truckers ineligible for not only the much-publicized recent $15 minimum wage ordinance in Los Angeles, but also for unionization.

On June 5, IBT truckers delivered a petition signed by 59 drivers to executives at IBT, COSCO and their Fortune 500 clients at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, in order to inform management that they had chosen Teamsters Local 848 as their collective bargaining representative. The drivers hope that the letter will stimulate movement on re-classification, and are threatening to strike if the outcome is not in their favor.

“We will fight for as long as it takes and are even ready to go on strike again. But all of that disruption and expense can be avoided if the company simply chooses to do the right thing and recognize our rights as employees and right to become members of the Union,” says IBT driver Hector Flores.

Barb Maynard, an official at Teamsters Local 848, points to April’s trucker strike as a catalyst for the pro-union mood that culminated with the June 5 letter, saying that while only 8 drivers went on strike on the first day, by week’s end that number grew to 57. “They went out on strike, and the strike grew—their numbers kept growing. … They were organizing themselves in the middle of the strike. It was really incredible,” Maynard tells In These Times.

Teamsters Local 848 says that IBT drivers were particularly emboldened by the unionization of truckers at Shippers Transport Express, whose previous legal challenges had successfully compelled the trucking company into reclassification of their workers. COSCO and SSA Marine, the respective parent companies of IBT and Shippers, together own and operate Pacific Container Terminals, a 256-acre marine terminal at the Port of Long Beach. Drivers at both companies were close enough to observe the benefits of full employment status and collective bargaining, workers say.

“Drivers at Shippers Transport Express, who were converted to employees in January and soon thereafter became Teamsters, had to fight through the courts to get their rights. We are hoping to avoid that long and expensive legal process because we know that we are misclassified at IBT—just as they were at Shippers,” Flores says.

IBT truckers are also currently involved in class action and individual lawsuits alleging wage theft and misclassification. The union expects this litigation to be ruled in favor of the truckers.

“[All driver-trucking company litigation] is the same. The working circumstances are all the same—exactly how these companies set up their leases…what deductions they make,” Maynard says. “There’s no reason to believe that, if these drivers do have to take their cases all the way through the court system, which takes years, that the outcome would be any different than what it’s been at Shippers or at any place else.”

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has recently spoken out against misclassification and related wage theft. “The misclassification of port truck drivers is not the gripe of a few drivers but a battle cry of a systemic problem that must be addressed,” Garcetti said at a May press conference, while celebrating the creation of a new 100%-employee-driver trucking company called Eco Flow.

The $15 minimum wage ordinance in Los Angeles also includes funding for a new Wage Enforcement Division that would have five investigators to crack down on wage theft locally. According to a March 2015 study published by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, San Francisco has the same number of investigators in its own wage enforcement team, but because the city has a lower concentration of low-wage workers than Los Angeles, investigators there cover 20,000 low wage workers each. The study says that Los Angeles’s Wage Enforcement Division would require 25 investigators to reach such an average of 20,000 per investigator.

As progressives across the country celebrate the passage of yet another successful $15 minimum wage campaign, and conservatives damn the unions who wish to collectively bargaining for low-wage earners, IBT truckers will eye a possible strike in order to simply qualify for a minimum wage at all.

According to Maynard, IBT truckers “are not going to sit around and wait for either mayor to take action. … [Drivers] are going to continue to fight back. Every day that they are misclassified is another day that their wages are being stolen,” she says.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on June 12, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Mario Vasquez. Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at mario.vasquez.espinoza@gmail.com.

No free pass to discriminate against immigrant workers: Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co.

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Low-wage workers—regardless of immigration status—shoulder more than their fair share of workplace violations, including unpaid wages, unsafe working conditions, and discrimination and harassment.  Immigrant low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable—working under constant fear that if they exercise basic workplace rights, they will suffer retaliation that could result in the separation of their families; loss of homes and property; or return to violence or extreme poverty in their home countries.

This fear of retaliation is based in fact.  We as advocates have seen it happen time and time again—and it overwhelmingly leads to workers staying silent, leaving employers without even a slap on the wrist when they break the law.

Scofflaw employers do not and will not stop violating the law if they are not held accountable for their violations to all workers.  Any other type of piecemeal enforcement, or lack of enforcement, encourages employers to hire vulnerable undocumented workers, disregard labor laws as basic as the minimum wage, and then fire them when they complain – all to the economic disadvantage of employers who do follow the law.

Earlier this summer, the California Supreme Court in the Salas v. Sierra Chemical Company case agreed, deciding that companies that hire undocumented workers (knowingly or not) do not get a free pass to discriminate against them.

In that case, Mr. Salas sued his former employer, Sierra Chemical Company, for failing to bring him back to work after he injured himself and claimed workers’ compensation benefits. Mr. Salas alleged the company retaliated against him for filing his claim and discriminated against him because of his injury. But a jury never got the chance to decide whether he was right. The company claimed that because Mr. Salas was not authorized to work in the U.S. in the first place, the company shouldn’t be liable for failing to hire him back. A lower court agreed and dismissed the case (giving the company a free pass to discriminate in the bargain).

The California Supreme Court said not so fast. On the one hand, the law says that people without work authorization shouldn’t be working. But on the other hand, the law says that all workers should be protected from discrimination.

In a careful decision, the California Supreme court balanced these two concerns.  It allowed Mr. Salas to take his case to a jury, finding that a company can be liable for discrimination even against undocumented employees.  At the same time, the court held that undocumented employees cannot seek a court to be hired back by the company that has discriminated against them.

This decision demonstrates an understanding of the reality of the California workplace, which is  increasingly made up of workers of all immigration statuses, including green card holders and naturalized U.S. citizens.  It also includes 1.85 million undocumented workers, who constitute nearly 10% of the total workforce.

Against this backdrop, the Supreme Court confirmed that employers cannot violate the law—by discriminating or otherwise—and then later be immunized from liability for those violations. The court recognized that leaving undocumented workers without the protection of the law would actually give employers a strong incentive to “look the other way” when hiring and then turn around and use their immigration status to ultimately exploit them.  That would be bad news for employers who actually honor their obligations to treat workers fairly and legally when it comes to hiring, pay, and non-discrimination in the workforce.

Mr. Salas will now have the chance to take his case to a jury, who will decide whether he wins or loses.  But the Salas decision is a solid win for all law-abiding Californians – employees and employers alike.

This article originally appeared in CELA Voice on October 2, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/

Beaman[1]About the Author: Megan Beaman is a community-based attorney who roots her work in the notion that all people deserve access to justice, and who understands the larger struggles for immigrant and worker justice in California and nationwide. Beaman’s practice is founded on her years of advocacy and activism in working class and immigrant communities, and tends to reflect the predominate needs of those communities, including many cases of discrimination, harassment, unpaid wages, immigration, substandard housing, and other civil rights violations. The client communities Beaman most often represents are overwhelmingly Latino and Spanish-speaking. Beaman also works and volunteers in a number of other community capacities, including as a coordinator for the Eastern Coachella Valley Neighborhoods Action Team.

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About the Author: Kevin Kish is the Director of the Employment Rights Project at Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles. He leads Bet Tzedek’s employment litigation, policy and outreach initiatives, focusing on combating illegal retaliation against low-wage workers and litigating cases involving human trafficking for forced labor.

14 Workers Protest for Over $40,000 in Unpaid Wages, Overtime, and Damages

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Hannah-pic-for-websiteFourteen former workers of Bravo Facilities Services, Inc. marched today at George Washington University to demand over $40,000 they are owed in unpaid wages and liquidated damages. In May, the workers were hired by Bravo, a cleaning contractor that is contracted by George Washington University. They spent the next two weeks working grueling 12 hour shifts cleaning at multiple buildings within the university. After two weeks, the workers were abruptly fired, and the company has refused to pay them their wages.

Today, the workers were no longer alone in demanding their wages. They were joined by the Employment Justice Center, OUR DC, the Restaurant Opportunities Center-DC and other members of the D.C. Wage Theft Coalition, a group of labor, community, and workers’ rights organizations that have come together to fight back against the rampant practice of wage theft in DC.

“It’s atrocious that in our nation’s capital, a company can so flagrantly deny workers their hard-earned wages,” said EJC Deputy Director Ari Weisbard. “The public needs to know that wage theft is a common occurrence in the District. It’s time to stand up and fight back.”

“If you don’t get paid in this country, they kick you out of your apartment. We have to pay for food, everything here,” said Cesar Monje, one of the workers who has not been paid. “We’re here because they haven’t paid us. We’re here to demand that they pay us now!”

Bystanders inside the university looked on, as the group of workers and their 30 community supporters chanted, “Bravo, Bravo, pay us now!”

Ultimately, Jonny Castillo, another worker who has not been paid, promised that the workers will return if they do not receive their wages. As the protesters marched away, they chanted, “We’ll be back!”

This article was originally printed on the Employment Justice Center Blog on July 12, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hannah Kane joined the EJC as a Wage Theft Campaign Organizer in August, 2012. Prior to joining the EJC, Hannah received her Masters in Social Work from George Mason University. During graduate school, Hannah worked as an organizer and social worker with Tenants and Workers United, using a combination of social services, community organizing, and popular education to fight back against wage theft in Falls Church, Virginia. Hannah also worked as a social worker with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, providing Know Your Rights presentations to immigrants in detention and case management to former detainees being released back into the community. Hannah is a member of the National and Virginia chapters of the National Association of Social Worker

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