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California

Pleasant Care Settles Federal Worker Suit

Labor: Nursing home operator to pay $1.1 million to 937 current, former employees.

June 14, 2002|DON LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An operator of more than three dozen nursing homes has agreed to pay $1.1 million in back wages and penalties to settle a federal complaint alleging labor violations involving hundreds of workers.

Labor Department officials said Thursday that La Canada-based Pleasant Care Corp. and its subsidiaries will provide $910,000 in unpaid minimum wages and overtime pay to 937 current and former employees. Some of the penalties were assessed for violating child-labor laws and record-keeping rules.

Pleasant Care and its principal owner, Emmanuel Bernabe Sr., did not return telephone calls Thursday.

Federal labor officials, who conducted a 10-month investigation of 37 Pleasant Care facilities in California and Arizona, said the fines and wage recoveries were among the largest for a single nursing home company.

"I think it is somewhat symptomatic," said Jerry Hall, deputy regional director of the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division in San Francisco. "This is an industry that we have put on our radar screen. It's a low-wage industry that has problems."

Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform in San Francisco, said it was unusual for skilled nursing facilities to be fined such a large amount for labor violations. She said the action should trigger an investigation by state health officials to determine whether labor practices affected the delivery of care to residents.

According to state health inspection records provided by McGinnis' group, about half of Pleasant Care's 32 facilities in California exceeded the average number of complaints and deficiencies found for nursing homes in the state. One Pleasant Care facility in Santa Cruz last year received 109 complaints and state officials recorded 84 deficiencies. McGinnis said that on average a nursing home received five complaints and 16 deficiencies last year. A manager at the Santa Cruz facility said Thursday that she could not comment on the complaints.

Labor officials said most of the Pleasant Care workers who were shortchanged were cleaning crew, administrative staff and licensed vocational nurses. Hall said those workers typically earned $7 to $10 an hour.

Some workers, he said, put in as many as 30 hours of overtime without receiving the time-and-half wages as required by law. Investigators reviewed labor records from July 1999 to July 2001.

Hall said Pleasant Care also was fined for allowing two 15-year-old students to put in excessive hours and another 15-year-old to work in the kitchen.

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