Current and former employees of New Bedford’s Michael Bianco, Inc., today filed a federal court class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 500 workers, alleging multiple violations of the federal and state wage and overtime laws.
Papers filed in the case describe how Michael Bianco, Inc., systematically and intentionally violated the laws requiring time-and-half for overtime work. Many employees clocked out after working a full day shift, then immediately clocked back in to work an evening shift. The employees’ hours for the week were often paid in two separate checks, one from Michael Bianco and one from a separately incorporated company, Front Line Defense, Inc. “The complaint sets forth how Michael Bianco deliberately evaded the overtime laws by creating a fiction that Front Line Defense was a separate company,” said Audrey Richardson, a senior attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), which is representing the workers along with South Coastal Counties Legal Services (SCCLS) and private attorney Philip Gordon of the Gordon Law Group, who is serving in a pro bono capacity. “These supposedly separate companies shared a workforce, a building, equipment, and management,” she added.
“Because of Michael Bianco’s deception, many employees worked day and night in a struggle to feed their children and pay the rent, yet they were not paid even the basic wages that the law requires,” said Ingrid Nava, also an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services. Nava noted that most of the workers were earning the minimum wage or only slightly above.
In addition, the federal court complaint sets out how Michael Bianco illegally deprived workers of wages for time worked as a result of its tardiness policy. The company routinely deducted 15 or 30 minutes of pay when workers clocked in as little as one minute late, even when the late clock-in resulted from long lines due to inadequate numbers of time clocks. The lawsuit also asserts that the company required workers to wait in long lines to clock out at the ends of their shifts, without paying them for the time. “Michael Bianco withheld hundreds of thousands of dollars from low-wage workers, padding its profits at the expense of these workers and their families,” said Phillip Kassel, Advocacy Director for South Coastal Counties Legal Services.
Legal services and pro bono attorneys filed the suit on behalf of the workers and in collaboration with Organizacion Maya K’iche, a New Bedford community group with close ties to many of the Michael Bianco workers. “Members of our community worked hard for Michael Bianco – all they wanted was to be treated fairly and to earn enough to support their families and be productive members of the New Bedford community,” said Anibal Lucas, director of the community organization.
The Michael Bianco factory was the site of a federal immigration raid in March, which resulted in the arrest and detention of many immigrant workers, depriving families with young children of breadwinners and caretakers, creating a local social services crisis. “Following the raid, many workers described a wide variety of exploitative practices that affected all workers in the factory, regardless of whether they were arrested in the raid,” said Nava. “Enforcing the wage laws against employers like Michael Bianco is critically important for all workers, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, as it strengthens workplace rights for all,” she said..