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LOS ANGELES -- Checks for as much as $10,000 began going out late last week to more than 2,000 Latino janitors who won $22.4 million in the largest class action settlement to date, involving the failure of janitorial subcontractors to pay their employees according to overtime and minimum wage laws.
Initiated by the Service Employees International Union, the lawsuit stemmed from an investigation of subcontracted janitorial workers at Safeway, Vons, Albertsons, and Ralph's. It has subsequently become known as known as the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund (MCTF), a Los Angeles-based industry watchdog group funded by SEIU and responsible janitorial companies concerned with ensuring high standards in the cleaning industry.
Before pursuing the lawsuit, SEIU says it repeatedly presented evidence of wage and hour violations to the chains and urged them to correct the practices to no avail.
The janitors, who were hired to clean the aforementioned chains, reported being assigned to work seven days a week, sometimes 365 days a year, without any overtime pay. According to a Los Angeles district attorney who pursued criminal cases against some of the subcontractors, many janitors were paid as little as $2.47 per hour.
Although the supermarket chains were not officially the janitors' direct employers, the SEIU says the chains agreed to pay the settlement because of the compelling evidence presented by the janitors' attorneys that showed the grocery chains "exercised control over the janitors' working conditions."
The landmark settlement is the largest of a growing number of lawsuits over unlawful employment practices, known as "wage and hour" claims involving the practices of janitorial subcontractors of major U.S. corporations. SEIU, the nation's largest janitors' union, is leading an effort to police janitorial companies -- and the corporations that hire them, including a establishing a hotline for workers who believe they have been illegally denied overtime pay.