SACRAMENTO — Anita Herrera spent years cleaning offices in San Diego, but her boss never gave her a legally required lunch and rest break during a seven-hour shift.
When she eventually asked for a breather, her employer cut her hours. So, in 2009, Herrera filed a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. Investigators corroborated the allegation and got a court order requiring her former employer to pay her $20,000 in penalties for the wage-and-hour law violations. Even so, she never got a cent.
Herrera’s cleaning company switched offices, changed its name and took out new business licenses, she said in Spanish. “I feel very defrauded. The company continues with its contracts and continues doing business.”
Her experience is not unusual.
Over a recent three-year period, thousands of mainly immigrant workers in California who clean buildings, pick crops, wash cars, sew garments and perform other minimum- and low-wage jobs won monetary judgments against their employers but were never paid, according to a new study to be released Thursday.
From 2008 to 2011, only 17% of court-ordered claims for back pay and labor law penalties were collected, according to the report by the National Employment Law Project and the UCLA Labor Center titled “Hollow Victories: The Crisis in Collecting Unpaid Wages for California’s Workers.”
Just 42% — $165 million out of $390 million — was recovered after being verified by government regulators, even after judges signed orders and employers signed settlement agreements.
Meanwhile, companies representing three-fifths of unpaid-wage judgments legally vanished, the report said.