Flanked by the Pilipino Workers Center, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer dropped a multi-million dollar lawsuit on a Filipino home care agency operator, claiming that they were paying workers $5.50 an hour — nearly half of the city’s $10.50 minimum wage.
“We allege the defendants systematically, as many as 200 or more home health workers, hard working men and women, mostly Filipino immigrants, minimum wage and overtime which they were entitled by law,” said Mike Feuer, LA City Attorney.
Feuer says Emelyn Nishi — who owns Health Alliance Nurses Corp and Hand Homecare Providers Inc. — charged clients between $170-250 for a 24-hour day, but workers were paid between $100-125 per 24-hour shift.
Feuer adds that even at $250 a day — that cost does not cover California’s wage and overtime laws.
He says the practice went on at least four years, but workers were afraid to speak out.
“They feared retaliation, including blacklisting in a very close knit health care industry. So my lawsuit alleges the defendants in this case routinely took advantage of vulnerability of these workers.”
The Pilipino Workers Center and Association of Filipino Workers brought this case to the City Attorney’s office three months ago, but the lawsuit was a year in a half in the making.
The defendant was the subject of protests in December 2015.
At the time, Nishi, who was confronted by the protestors outside, her then-office said the workers were independent contractors, whom she claims to have been paying $10 to 14 an hour.
After that, the case was brought to the labor department before being filed in civil court on Wednesday morning.
While Health Alliance since closed down, John Arason — the company’s compliance officer — says that Hand Homecare is in compliance.
He tells ABS-CBN News that the allegations against them are false.
“We’re seeking an injunction which would prevent these fair unlawful practices. We are seeking restitution for the caregivers who provided these services during the period of time I mentioned earlier. Just trying to make ends meet performing… very difficult work. And we’re trying to seek penalties pursuant to the statues under, which we’re suing, which could be as much as $2,500 per violation.”
“This has been one of our biggest cases, because we do know that she is one of the big violators who not only owes her workers possibly millions of dollars, but also she really treated her workers very poorly, and used a lot of intimidation,” said Aqui Versoza Soriano, Exec. Director of the Pilipino Workers Center.
The City Attorney and Pilipino Workers Center have been on the crusade to fight wage theft.
Feuer is asking potential victims of any case to contact his office, while the PWC runs the EMPLEO Pinoy program.
Ultimately the city attorney’s office is not only targeting the home health industry, they’re hoping to deter wage theft in all industries –especially where low paid and immigrant workers are vulnerable to this multi-billion dollar epidemic.