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Hotel Housekeepers Denied California Overtime File Lawsuit

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Oakland, CAFor some California housekeepers who celebrated last September the bill that granted permanent California overtime protection for domestic workers, the law doesn’t apply to them – but it should. An East Oakland hotel owner, for instance, refused to pay overtime to six housekeepers: consequently employees, a legal advocacy firm and the city of Oakland filed a lawsuit against the Quality Inn in Oakland.

According to the lawsuit, the hotel also made employees work off the clock before and after shifts, did not provide breaks and retaliated against employees who phoned in sick. And these violations have been going on for at least four years. The employees, who only speak Spanish, contacted an attorney at the legal advocacy firm Centro Legal de la Raza. According to Mercury News, staff attorney Shira Levine said that “fear and employer retaliation permeate the housekeeping industry and allow employers to perpetuate exploitation. These six immigrant women overcame their personal fear and united to demand justice from their employer.”

In a city statement, lead plaintiff Matilda Cortez said, “I felt bad about the job because we were suffering a lot, we worked a lot but we were not paid any overtime or given any sick time…Even if we brought in a doctor’s note, we were not paid for our sick time off.”

Centro Legal de la Raza and the city of Oakland filed the lawsuit together in Alameda County Superior Court on January 31. Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said it is the city's first lawsuit under the minimum wage ordinance that Oakland voters passed in November 2014. Parker said the suit seeks unpaid wages and compensation to the employees, plus penalties and damages. She has served as Oakland’s City Attorney since July 2011. Oakland North, a news project of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, said that Parker’s office is committed to fighting abuse against employees.

As of March 2015, Oakland set a minimum wage at $12.25 A cost of living increase each year has lifted the wage to $12.86 per hour. “We’re getting complaints from people who are not really being paid the minimum wage … or they’re being forced to work off the clock,” said Parker.

In California all domestic workers, including hotel housekeepers, are entitled to overtime pay. According to UCLA Labor Center, about 2 million households in California hire domestic workers for housecleaning (54%), homecare support for seniors and disabled persons (27%), and childcare (19%). Many of these domestic workers are live-in, and a significant number work 24-hour shifts.

Despite the signing of bill AB241, which grants overtime protection for domestic workers, they are still being exploited—from hotels to private homes. Enforcing the California labor law is another matter.

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