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Chino warehouse operator fined for alleged overtime violations

Quetico also denied employees their full lunch and rest breaks and retaliated against some who complained, California's labor commissioner says. The firm calls the charges 'misleading and false.'

January 29, 2013|By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times
  • Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — State labor regulators have ordered an Inland Empire warehouse operator that handles goods for big-box retailers to pay $1.3 million in overtime, penalties and other compensation, accusing it of wage- and hour-law violations.

State Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su issued citations Monday to Quetico, a warehouse and distribution company in Chino that receives and distributes shoes, apparel and electronic goods.

The commissioner's investigation of two Quetico facilities, totaling half a million square feet, found that the company created restrictive procedures that shorted workers of their wages. Employees had to go to work early to stand in long lines to punch time cards at only three available clocks, the state said.

Employees also were denied legally required 30-minute lunch and rest breaks because they had to stand in the same long lines, the commissioner's office said. It said workers who complained about the situation and the resulting unpaid wages illegally received disciplinary memos and suspensions.

"Wage theft takes many forms," Su said in a statement. "My office will crack down on any employer who is taking hard-earned wages from workers by falsifying time cards and systematically preventing employees from taking a full meal break. We are also intent on eliminating the competitive advantages that labor law violators gain over employers who play by the rules."

Quetico said in a statement that it "strongly disagrees with the conclusions reached" by the labor commissioner and plans to appeal. "The notion that Quetico systematically prevented employees from receiving the wages and benefits to which they are entitled under California law is outrageous, misleading and false," the company said.

Quetico's warehouses also have been cited by state agencies for safety violations in the last year, according to Warehouse Workers United, a labor union-backed group that has been campaigning to highlight alleged labor abuses at Inland Empire distribution centers used by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other retailers.

"Many of the problems that we commonly see in Southern California warehouses are concentrated at this warehouse," said Guadalupe Palma, the group's director.

The Quetico complex labels, tags and packs apparel and shoes for major companies including Wal-Mart, Levi Strauss & Co., Maidenform Brands Inc. and Puma, Warehouse Workers United said in a statement. Quetico emphasized, however, that its Chino warehouses did not operate under a contract with Wal-Mart.

Quetico workers first raised concerns about unpaid wages and allegedly retaliatory suspensions last year with an arm of Warehouse Workers United. They subsequently filed complaints with the labor commissioner's office, which said it has received assurances from Quetico management that the company would change its time card, rest break and disciplinary policies.

The state's enforcement action is part of a drive by Gov. Jerry Brown's administration to improve working conditions for low-wage workers in such areas as warehouses, garment manufacturing and carwashes.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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