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Paper must pay in labor case

MEDIA

Chinese Daily News workers say they put in 12-hour days without breaks or overtime.

March 01, 2008|Tiffany Hsu | Times Staff Writer

One of the nation's largest Chinese-language newspapers was slapped with a federal court order to pay $5.2 million to past and current employees who were forced to work 12-hour days without breaks or overtime pay.

The Chinese Daily News, based in Los Angeles and New York, must pay more than $3.5 million in damages and penalties in addition to more than $1.5 million in interest to the workers, according to an order issued late Thursday by U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall in Los Angeles. Lawyers said Friday they learned about the ruling by e-mail.

"It's been a long fight, and it's a great victory," said Randall Renick, a plaintiffs' lawyer.

The Chinese Daily News will appeal, said Steven Atkinson, a lawyer with the newspaper's defense firm. He said he expected the verdict to be reversed.

Marshall's decision ends the trial stage of a battle that has gone on since 2004, when three former reporters filed a class-action lawsuit to halt the alleged abuses. They won a jury verdict last year.

They contended that they often were forced to work 12-hour shifts six days a week while writing two to five stories daily, without breaks for meals or rest, and were not permitted to submit to the company accurate records of time they worked.

The suit grew to include 200 reporters, advertising sales staffers and hourly employees from the Monterey Park and San Francisco offices. The newspaper, known in the Chinese community as the World Journal, reaches about 30,000 readers nationwide.

In January 2007, the jury awarded the workers $2.5 million in damages. They then sought additional payment through penalties and interest on the unpaid wages that had accumulated during the trial.

Marshall, in her ruling, rejected the workers' request for an order prohibiting the paper from violating labor laws in the future. She said the Daily News was implementing new wage and overtime policies.

Atkinson said the newspaper had been battling the employees' union since 2000 over meal allowances, retirement benefits and health insurance issues.

One of the original plaintiffs, Lynne Wang, 54, of La Puente, said she was pleased with the judgment but felt sad that the legal process had taken so long.

"Justice finally prevailed, even though it was so hard to get," she said.

Wang said she was at the newspaper for 18 years as a reporter until she was fired for refusing to switch to a position as a translator. She is now working as a radio broadcaster.

A culture of fear was prevalent in the newspaper office, where supervisors publicly reprimanded reporters who requested overtime pay, Wang said. Many employees were immigrants who were worried about their jobs and didn't dare mark extra hours.

"They took advantage of us because they knew we were very scared," she said. "In the end, we had no choice but to litigate."

As part of a tiny reporting staff, Wang said she sometimes had to meet with editors until 1 a.m. and other times worked 18 hours through the night on election coverage.

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tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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