New Bedford factory agrees to settle Federal wage and overtime lawsuit for $850,000

Gordon Law Group, LLP and Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) announced today an agreement to settle a federal class action lawsuit against Michael Bianco, Inc., the former New Bedford factory that manufactured military gear for the U.S. Department of Defense. The company was the target of a March 2007 federal immigration raid that was broadly criticized for its inhumane treatment of the workers and their families. The settlement agreement provides for payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid overtime and wages to 764 former Michael Bianco employees.

Gordon Law Group, LLP, along with legal aid organizations GBLS and South Coastal Counties Legal Services, filed the lawsuit last year following the raid, after interviews with detained workers and others exposed a range of labor violations in the factory. The case was filed on behalf of all affected workers, including those who continued to work in the factory as well as those who were detained or deported in the raid.

The lawsuit included allegations that Michael Bianco systematically and intentionally violated the laws requiring time-and-a-half for overtime work by creating a sham second corporation called Front Line Defense, Inc. Many employees were paid by Michael Bianco for full-time work on the day shift but then were paid by Front Line Defense for the overtime hours that they worked on a second, evening shift. During the evening shift, these employees often did the same work, on the same machines, as they did during the day, without receiving overtime pay.

“At times, I worked six days a week, and more than 14 hours some days, but I never received overtime pay for my work on the evening shift,” said former Michael Bianco worker Elsy Hernandez. “I had to clock out at 5:00 and clock back in at 5:30, and then I got two paychecks – one from Michael Bianco, and one from Front Line Defense.”

The complaint also alleged that Michael Bianco routinely deducted 15 or 30 minutes of pay when workers clocked in as little as one minute late. These wages were withheld even when the workers had arrived on time but had to wait in long lines to clock in because the company did not have enough time clocks.

The defendants have agreed to pay a total of $850,000 to settle the case. As part of the agreement, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) will supervise and administer $613,000 in restitution payments to the workers. USDOL today filed a separate federal court complaint and
(over)
consent judgment which, in accordance with the class action settlement, sets forth Michael Bianco’s agreement to make the restitution payments. The $850,000 settlement will also allocate amounts to New Bedford community groups that support and organize immigrant workers, additional payments to the six named plaintiffs in recognition of their courage in coming forward, and partial compensation for attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by legal services organizations that represented the workers.

The amount of each worker’s payment will depend on both the length of employment in the factory and how many overtime hours were worked. Employees who did not work double shifts will receive smaller payments to compensate them for the deductions from pay. All employees who worked for Michael Bianco and/or Front Line Defense between 2004 and March 2007 are entitled to receive restitution payments, regardless of their immigration status or current country of residence.

“We’re pleased to recover the wages that the Michael Bianco workers earned and should have been paid,” said Audrey Richardson, a senior attorney at GBLS. “Unfortunately, this settlement achieves only partial justice for workers whose lives and families were torn apart by the raid.”

“It was a pleasure working with the team at GBLS. Unfortunately, many companies in this state still believe they can get away without paying overtime and other wages to their employees. Most often companies disguise it by putting employees on salary when they should be paid hourly, or as here, by setting up shadow corporations to hide their misdeeds. In any case, as more and more workers learn about their rights to overtime and other wages, we’re ready to help,” said Philip Gordon, Managing Partner of Gordon Law Group, LLP..