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Workers Denied Overtime Take it to the Courts -- and Win

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Chicago, ILIn their rush to increase profits, CEOs often agree to "downsizing," "smartcizing" and other measures designed to squeeze as much labor out of their workforce as humanly possible, at the lowest cost. Too often, this involves denying workers overtime pay.

If you're a cynic, this may just sound like business as usual. But if you believe that dignity should be a part of everyone's work life -- from computer programmers to EMTs to vegetable pickers -- take heart. Workers across North America are taking their overtime cases to the courts and winning back billions from corporations.

Recent Wins
Overtime worker stretchingAs we've previously reported, Wal-Mart is now facing more than 70 labor related lawsuits across the US. In California, workers won a $172 million judgment against Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is appealing the judgment. In Pennsylvania, workers won a $78.5 million judgment last year. Wal-Mart is appealing the judgment. In Colorado, Wal-Mart settled a class action for $50 million.

Some other recent court victories:

• Five Long Island restaurants, one of them diagonally across from the U.S. Labor Department in Westbury, have agreed to pay a total of about $1 million to settle a department lawsuit claiming they failed to pay 192 employees overtime, including counter people, busboys, dishwashers and cooks who worked as many as 60 hours some weeks. Most of the workers are Hispanic immigrants.
• The city of Eaton Colorado will pay $190,000 in back overtime pay to seven police officers who threatened to bring a lawsuit against the town in February. The police officers alleged they weren't paid for overtime they worked during the past three years.
• A trial court and the state appeals court ruled in favor of Louisville, Kentucky firefighter suing for $60 million in back overtime pay. (Mayor Jerry Abramson said he'll appeal the judgment to the Kentucky Supreme Court).
• More than 50 employees at Chicago's Resurrection Health Care may be eligible for as much as $500,000 in back wages after an administrative law judge denied the hospital chain's appeal of an Illinois Department of Labor ruling that management violated the state's labor law on overtime pay.

A Spike in Lawsuits
Although many workers are reluctant to take action for fear of losing their jobs (or their immigration status, as in the case of domestic and farm workers), many have bravely been standing up on behalf of themselves and their co-workers. The number of lawsuits is on the rise.

For example, in Florida alone, in 2006, 1,830 wage and hour lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Tens of thousands of suits have been filed in other states across the country.

Workers in IT, medicine, education, service and many other industries have been blogging - and connecting - around this common issue.

The Most Vulnerable Employees
Those employees who are most vulnerable have been organizing to fight for their legal rights under the law. In July, the National Alliance of Domestic Workers was formed, with nearly 10,000 people attending its founding meeting in Atlanta, GA. Almost 50% of domestic workers regularly work overtime and 43 percent work 50 hours a week or more. The group is organized to challenge employers, educate employees, and create more fair working conditions for domestic workers.

Labor organizers and lawyers are closely watching several new cases, such as the lawsuit filed last month by Jong S. Byeon, a 50-year-old Korean immigrant, against a Palisades Park mall, claiming it violated federal and state minimum-wage and overtime laws by paying him little or no wages for working as a car valet. In a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, Byeon says he received no wages -- his only pay was customer tips -- while working 61 hours per week.

Alexander Saingchin, a New York-based attorney, said that immigrants often face exploitation in the workplace, because they are not aware that an employer is breaking the law and violating their rights under US labor law.

"Workers have the right to the minimum wage, to overtime pay and to work free of discrimination," Saingchin said.

Have You Been Unfairly Treated?
No matter where you work, if you feel you have been unfairly compensated for overtime, you may be able to take part in a class action lawsuit. Contact a lawyer to discuss the possibility of joining a lawsuit to make employers pay for their unfair labor practices.

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If you are owed unpaid overtime, please contact a lawyer involved in a possible [Overtime Lawsuit] who will review your case at no cost or obligation.

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