At the end of January, the California Department of Employment fined the supermarket chain Superior Grocers and its cleaning subcontractor Common Area Maintenance Services (CAM Services) for violating a workers’ compensation law.
The fine of more than $100,000 each is for not having acquired workers’ compensation insurance in 2017 and a second investigation for wage theft is under way.
Activists allege that CAM Services worked through subcontractors offering extremely low payment offers. Between 35 and 40 cleaning workers were engaged in Superior Grocers stores in Southern California.
One of those affected was Elizabeth Preciado, 39, who said she worked for more than four years with CAM Services and claims that the company stole thousands of dollars in salary and eventually fired her.
From the first moment he received his check, Preciado realized that his salary was being robbed. “They gave me certain hours to work and when I received my check it did not match the payment. And I told them that the amount was not right and they told me what I had to earn, ” said the mother of six children between 17 and 4 years old, who continued to work out of necessity.
Over time he faced more problems such as receiving checks without funds or not receiving wages for several weeks.
“It affected me a lot with my payments of receipts, rent and to get ahead with my children,” said Preciado.
Two months ago she was fired with the excuse that one of the stores she cleaned would close. However, CAMS Services stopped being contracted by Superior Grocers.
Researchers at the Maintenance Trust Fund (MCTF), a cleaning industry watchdog who has found more than $ 70 million in unpaid wages over the past 20 years, discovered “runaway and systemic” wage theft.
“They are paid as independent contractors, that is for the benefit of the company because if there is, for example, a wound, the company will not defend them,” said Lilia García-Brower, executive director of MCTF. “They exploit people for not having papers, but in California they must know that [even if they are undocumented] they have rights.”
Superior Grocers is also responsible
At the beginning of the year, Superior Grocers changed its cleaning subcontractor, but those affected say it is not enough.
Superior Grocers, based in Santa Fe Springs, claims to be committed to the predominantly low-income immigrant communities it serves. However, Garcia-Brower said they are not acting on their slogan.
“[Superior Grocers] wants to ignore the janitors, but they must demand and not allow the employees to be mistreated. They must ensure that the people who work inside their store earn well, “he said.
“We want them to be fair and pay us what they owe us,” said Preciado, asserting that she owes more than $10,000 in past wages.
Reported to car wash
Recently, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced a lawsuit against another company that stole the salaries of its employees.
Feuer filed a civil lawsuit against Silver Lake Car Wash, Inc. alleging that the company routinely violated workers’ rights by not paying the minimum wage or overtime, not paying all hours worked and refusing to provide required breaks.
“Stealing the wages of male and female workers, as we allege here, is reprehensible,” Feuer said. “No employer should deny workers their basic rights to a minimum wage and overtime. Whether they are truckers in the port, home health workers or car wash employees, my office will fight aggressively to protect the rights of workers and ensure that all workers receive the payment required by law.”
Silver Lake Car Wash, located at 3595 Boulevard Beverly, has about 20 workers who work between 7:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. The lawsuit alleges that the workers received such a low salary that amounted to approximately $ 6.50 per hour and did not receive overtime pay.
When the car wash closed early due to the lack of customers, the employees supposedly did not receive any payment if they worked less than five hours.
The lawsuit also alleges that Silver Lake Car Wash falsified payroll records in order to insufficiently report employees’ work hours and shorten their salary. The company allegedly did not allow breaks or free time to eat, nor did it provide adequate safety equipment, forcing some workers to buy their own gloves and boots.
Feuer seeks a court order prohibiting Silver Lake Car Wash from continuing to engage in illegal employment practices, as well as restitution on behalf of current and former employees who have been underpaid in the past four years.
Silver Lake Car Wash could also receive civil penalties of up to $ 2,500 for each violation plus the costs of the investigation.
Diane Elliot is a seasoned journalist with nearly 12 years experience. While studying journalism at University of Southern California, Diane found a passion for finding engaging stories. As a contributor to Coastal Morning Star, Diane mostly covers human interest pieces.