Veronica T. Avendaño
Workers and supporters gathered outside at the Santa Clara County Courthouse in San Jose for a rally organized by the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition, in support of Ma Laboratories workers’ rights and a call to end wage theft this past Friday, June 6.
“A huge number of employers from small group care homes, to large companies, like MA labs, are systematically stealing wages,” said Michael Tayag, volunteer for PAWIS(Pilipino Association of Workers and Immigrants). Tayag said each year dozens of workers approach the grassroots organization PAWIS seeking help with labor abuse.
Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition, in collaboration with Sanford Heisler LLP, Chapin Fitzgerald LLP and the Law Offices of Thomas Marc Litton, used the rally as a megaphone for workers in the Tien v. Ma Laboratories lawsuit.
San Jose based Ma Laboratories employees filed a lawsuit against the company in a wage and hour dispute. Workers claim the company does not pay all wages due, nor provide meal periods, or rest periods. The IT company is also accused of time-shaving, a practice in which employees may clock in early but are not paid until their regularly scheduled time.
“The top complaint is not getting their overtime,” said Evelin Ramirez, legal assistant for Sanford Heisler LLP. “A lot of them work six times a week, 10-12 hours a day, and they all make the same regular wage. Everyone in California should be aware that anything over 8 hours a day is overtime pay,” said Ramirez.
Last month the plaintiffs secured a protective order to prevent the company from continuing to retaliate against the employees for their involvement in the lawsuit. “We filed a motion for a protective order with the judge, because the company was reporting our clients to immigration, to other government entities,” said attorney Felicia Medina, Sanford Hiesler.
“Wage theft in Santa Clara County is an epidemic,” said Ruth Silver Taube, an attorney and coalition member. Taube said that recent data from the labor commission shows more complaints are filed in Santa Clara County than in the rest of the state. “When someone isn’t paid it affects their families, it affects their health, it affects every aspect of their life. It also is unfair competition for business, you can’t compete with businesses that don’t pay their workers because their costs are less,” said Taube.
Taube also points out that the county also has an issue with enforcement, “The tragedy is that even when workers prevail and receive judgements from the labor commission, they are unable to collect.” In 2012-2013 the labor commission awarded 8.4 million dollars, but only 2.4 million was able to be collected. “Employers do a cost benefit analysis and they figure there is no consequence if they don’t pay,” said Taube.
Taube and the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition are working to push legislation to prevent companies from practicing wage theft. The coalition, consisting of 16 organizations, is to suggest that the county pass a wage theft ordinance which will revoke contracts to businesses that have engaged in wage theft, and suspend any license or permits until the business pays the judgement.