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Current Litigation

Posted on Nov 6, 2009
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Current Impact Litigation

United Ass’n Local Union 246 v. Occupational Safety & Health Appeals Board

Worksafe filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus to challenge an April 2007 decision of the OSH Appeals Board, In the Matter of the Appeal of Harris Construction Co., Inc. Under California law, a general contractor may be held liable, as the “controlling employer” on a multi-employer worksite, for the health and safety violations of its subcontractors.

The law defines a controlling employer as one who has responsibility for safety on the worksite and the authority for ensuring that hazardous conditions are corrected. In its decision, the Appeals Board ignored the plain language of California’s multi-employer law and ruled that a general contractor may be held liable only if it was in a position to know about and abate the specific hazard that injured a subcontractor’s employee.

Worksafe filed this action on behalf of three petitioners—Centro Legal de La Raza (a legal services program), United Association Local 246 (the Union that represented the injured worker), and the Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA, a community-based organization that educates low-wage, immigrant workers about their rights).

Read more about multi-employer worksites.

Amicus Briefs
In Order of Date Filed

Brinker v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum)
California Supreme Court
Filed August 19, 2009

Worksafe filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief on behalf of legal services organizations that represent low-wage workers urging the Supreme Court to reverse the Fourth District Court of Appeals ruling that “employers need not ensure meal breaks are taken, but need only make them available.” This case addresses whether employers must only "make available" meal and rest breaks to their workers while giving them all but impossible workloads, or whether they must actually ensure that workers take the breaks to which they are entitled.

Worksafe's brief discussed the harm to worker health and safety that would result from putting the onus on vulnerable workers to demand legally required meal and rest breaks that employers fail to provide. Worksafe’s amicus brief argues that the Court of Appeal’s ruling weakens mandatory meal and rest break protections and harms society as a whole through increased injuries, stress and illnesses suffered by workers as well as accidents that affect those other than the fatigued worker.
Read the Brinker amicus brief (PDF).

Sonic-Calabasas v. Moreno
California Supreme Court
Filed August 7, 2009

Worksafe signed on to the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center's amicus brief in Sonic-Calabasas v. Moreno, which deals with whether the guaranteed rights of low-income workers under the Berman hearing procedure can be waived by an arbitration agreement that an employee is pressured by an employer to sign.

In Berman hearings, investigators from the state Labor Commissioner's office investigate and Labor Commissioner lawyers prosecute wage and hour violations, including those covering employee meal and rest breaks. Berman hearings also include entitlement to court-appointed interpreters and "one way" fee-shifting to employers. These provisions are vitally important for low wage workers, who otherwise would not have the resources to secure an attorney or other safeguards.

Savaglio v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
California Court of Appeal
Filed July 17, 2008

In this case, a jury awarded the plaintiffs $172 million in restitution and punitive damages, finding that Wal-Mart forced employees to work through their meal breaks and didn't give them their extra hours of pay due under California’s Unfair Competition Law for having missed their breaks. Wal-Mart appealed, claiming that employees voluntarily waive meal breaks if they do not ask for them and that the trial court erred to certifying the case as a class action.

Worksafe joined with other low-wage worker advocates to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiff class (over 100,000 current and former Wal-Mart workers, most of whom were or are employed in minimum wage jobs) in the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District in San Francisco. Amici argued that adopting Walmart’s position of “voluntary” meal periods would eviscerate California’s strong, long standing mandatory meal period laws, harming in particular vulnerable low- wage and immigrant workers. This case was stayed pending a decision by the California Supreme Court in the Brinker case.
Read the Savaglio amicus brief (PDF).

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