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Chinese bus builder's labor troubles may be a problem for Gov. Brown

Build Your Dream's plan for an electric bus factory in Lancaster was called 'significant' by Brown, but it has been cited for paying some workers less than the minimum wage.

November 03, 2013|By Marc Lifsher

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown's vision to build electric buses in California may be giving him a black eye.

In April, Brown visited the factory of Chinese vehicle manufacturer Build Your Dreams, or BYD, and announced that the company would make similar vehicles in the high-desert city of Lancaster.

"It's very significant," Brown said at the Shenzhen plant of BYD. "I think it's very important that we start replacing the bus fleet with electric buses."

But BYD has run into trouble with Brown's own labor regulators, now that the Lancaster assembly plant is gearing up for production. BYD has contracts to build 10 buses for the Long Beach Transit and as many as 25 for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Two BYD affiliates — a headquarters in downtown Los Angeles and the Lancaster facility of BYD Coach & Bus — are accused of paying some of their Chinese national employees less than California's minimum wage of $8 an hour. In all, investigators from the state Labor Commissioner's Office ordered BYD to pay civil penalties and back wages totaling about $99,000.

Additionally, the company was cited for failing to provide workers with itemized wage statements containing accurate information and legally required rest breaks.

In a statement, BYD said it never intended to violate California's "unique and technical wage and hour laws" and has hired a labor attorney to resolve its problems with the state.

Madeline Janis of the Los Angeles Alliance for the New Economy denounced what she called "the hidden abusive treatment of Chinese workers" by the company. She asked the governor and Los Angeles officials to reconsider their relations with BYD.

Brown spokesman Jim Evans said he couldn't comment on a pending enforcement case. "We want Chinese investment to help grow California's economy," he said, "but you have to play by the rules."

Piggyback insurance

Law enforcement agencies have charged Los Angeles insurance agent Graciela Elena Paredes with fraudulently obtaining coverage on her 2011 Honda Civic.

Paredes, 36, of Corona, added her car to a client's policy without mentioning the arrangement, according to the California Department of Insurance.

She got into an accident in March 2011 and received an $11,000 settlement from her client's insurer.

The person who bought the insurance figured out what was going on and complained. Paredes was arrested after a joint investigation with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. She has yet to enter a plea, said Joseph Vodnoy, her lawyer, who declined to comment further.

Big battle brewing

Get set for a potential $70-million-plus campaign next year over a proposal to raise the upper limit of $250,000 that juries can award for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering in medical-malpractice lawsuits.

A coalition of trial lawyers and consumer groups is gathering signatures to get such a measure on the ballot and is expected to raise as much as $10 million. Opponents — physicians, hospitals and insurance companies — say they would spend $60 million or more to defeat the initiative.

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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