In April 2014, Julia Arechiga began working for GCS, Inc. (formerly Guaranteed Cleaning Services and now Golden Touch), a contractor for the City of San Fernando responsible for janitorial duties at several of the municipalities’ parks and office buildings.
The 38-year-old mother of two thought the job was perfect because the extra income would come in very handy for her family, and she could leave her two-year-old daughter with her husband while she worked.
Arechiga never thought much of the fact that she never actually saw the person who hired her, whom she identified as Luis Mejia; she simply sent all her documents for the hiring process through other company workers who came by the San Fernando Aquatic Center, where she cleaned all the buildings, bathrooms and areas in the facility.
All the hiring process was done over the phone, and the agreement was that she would get paid $750 a month for her part-time work. She never saw her employment contract and doesn’t know whether she’s an employee or a subcontractor.
There were no problems the first month, as Arechiga promptly got her check. But the subsequent three months she worked for the GCS were a constant plea for her payment and, she said, excuses from Mejia: that her address was incorrect, that the secretary had not sent the payment yet, etc.
Until one day, Arechiga recounted, when she had asked for her payment and Mejia simply told her she was fired and not to show up at work anymore.
“I was fired for asking for my rights,” Arechiga said. “I kept working even though they were not paying me.”
After being dismissed without any apparent reason, Arechiga continued asking for her payment to no avail. Later on she filed a complaint with the state’s Labor Board.
In August 2014, GCS paid her what she was owed. But Arechiga said the Labor Board told her she was entitled to more money for the delay in payment.
While Arechiga pursued the company for payment, she also went before the San Fernando City Council to plead her case since that GCS had a contract with the city.
She appeared at several of the council meetings to expose what she considers the wrongdoing to her, especially after learning that GCS was bidding to extend its janitorial contract with the City of San Fernando.
On December 1, 2014, the San Fernando City Council approved a three-year Professional Services Agreement, with a maximum of two one-year options, with Golden Touch Cleaning Incorporated in the amount of $138,000 for janitorial services.
City Manager Brian Saeki told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol newspaper that city officials were aware of Arechiga’s problems with GCS, but that they don’t “get into labor disputes when it comes to our vendors.”
He added that the company was the lowest bidder and “we haven’t had any problems with [GCS] in the past,” and that it also provided services for other municipalities.
Saeki went on to say that the problem with Arechiga and GCS became a “he said, she said” thing and that city officials were satisfied with GCS’s explanation of the situation.
In fact, Saeki said, representatives of GCS appeared at city council meetings to contend that Arechiga was the one who quit “because she said she was unhappy with the company.”
Arechiga emphatically denies that.
“Why would I quit a job that helps me out?,” she said.
Saeki also said GCS representatives said that they sent checks owed to Arechiga, but she never picked them up. When the company tried to reach her by phone, she never picked up.
Saeki even has in his possession a check that was sent to Arechiga by certified mail that she never picked up, he said.
But Saeki added the wage issue brought up by Arechiga “has raised red flags” about GCS and how it treats its employees, and city officials will be reviewing that.
“It raises issues. We’re going to check other issues she (Arechiga) brought up,” he said.
In September of 2014, Arechiga hired a lawyer and filed a civil lawsuit against GCS Inc. and several of its representatives.
The suit alleges, among other things, intentional misclassification as independent contractor, failure to pay earned wages and overtime compensation, failure to provide wages when due, failure to compensate for all hours worked and wrongful termination.
The lawsuit is currently ongoing.
When contacted by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol newspaper, Mejia said he could not comment on the lawsuit and that he was simply an employee.
“I have no information on that,” he said when asked about the lawsuit. He referred calls to the company and the person who answered the phone said there was no one available to speak with the press.
Arechiga is hoping her case will make the City of San Fernando aware of a problem with GCS. She considers the renewal of the contract to be wrong.
“They already did this to me, but I don’t want them to do this to someone else,” she said. “I don’t want this company to be hired for other jobs.”