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Recycling Firm Faces Suit Over Minimum Wage

December 01, 1988|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

A coalition of Ventura County labor groups said Wednesday that a class-action lawsuit will be filed by week's end against a Simi Valley recycling firm that allegedly fired 10 employees who asked to be paid the state minimum hourly wage.

Bearing placards that said "Fight Wage Slavery" and "I Am a Victim of Corporate Exploitation and Racism," about 20 people, including fired workers, labor union representatives and immigrant rights groups, on Wednesday picketed the offices of Simi Valley Recycling and confronted a company officer with their complaints.

Wayne Eaton, a vice president of Simi Valley Recycling, declined comment.

Simi Valley Recycling processes newspapers and glass containers. It employs about 60 workers.

Labor officials said that Simi Valley Recycling is only one of many Southern California firms that have been accused of violating the state law governing the minimum wage, which was boosted to $4.25 in July.

"A lot of businesses that hire undocumented aliens take advantage; there's no doubt about that," said Roger Miller, a regional manager of the state's division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

Miller said his office processes up to 70 minimum wage complaints each month in Southern California.

Ned Sullivan, area director for the wage-hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor, said his office also receives numerous complaints.

The federal minimum wage is $3.35, but in California the higher state minimum wage of $4.25 takes precedence.

"It comes to my attention every day of my life. The worst offenders are the garment industry and restaurants," Sullivan said.

Lawson said the fired employees, some of whom formerly worked as farm laborers, complained that they were paid $3.50 an hour. He said the firm paid employees in cash, kept no record of earnings and refused to pay Social Security, disability and unemployment compensation insurance.

Chris A. Schneider, an attorney for Farm Workers Law of Keene, Calif., which is representing the 10 fired workers who likely will be named as plaintiffs in the suit, also claimed that Simi Valley Recycling also discriminates on the basis of race, paying its white workers more than black or Latino workers.

The lawsuit, seeking $1 million in actual and punitive damages, is to be filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, according to spokesmen for a coalition that includes the United Farm Workers of America, the Public Employees Assn. of Ventura County, Laborers Union Local 585 of Ventura, the Tri-Counties Central Labor Council and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1036.

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