A. Garcia / SFVS

Angel de la Rosa has been working at JD Reycling in Arleta for two weeks, and so far has no complaints.

“They pay us our hours. If we go over our hours, they pay us overtime,” he said.

“They pay us with a check. They take taxes, just like it should be,” he adds.

De la Rosa gets paid per hour, and he takes his lunch when another employee comes in the afternoon, when business usually picks up.

But some people who come to sell their glass and cans sometimes complain.

“They say, ‘the guys here before wouldn’t take lunch,’” De la Rosa says. “You have the right to take your lunch. I just tell them we’re not the other people.”

The customers’ confusion is easily understood.

Before JD Recycling took it over, this recycling center squeezed between a liquor store and a carwash at the corner of Arleta Avenue and Osborne Street, belonged to Odelsi Recycling.

Odelsi Recycling — which apparently sold this location but still manages a recycling business at the corner of Pierce Street and Glenoaks Boulevard in Pacoima — was recently ordered by the United States Department of Labor to pay more than $45,000 in back wages and damages to four workers for violating minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping laws.

“Specifically, the employer paid employees’ flat salaries regardless of the number of hours they worked, resulting in minimum wage violations when the salary paid divided by the hours worked failed to cover at least $7.25 per hour (the federal minimum wage), according to the Labor Department statement.

“Overtime violations occurred when employees worked more than 40 hours in a week and the employer failed to pay them overtime. Record-keeping violations resulted from the employer’s failure to record all the hours employees worked, as well as failing to record their rates of pay,” the statement said.

When contacted by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, a representative at the Odelsi Recycling location in Pacoima declined to comment on the fine.

Still, the company has agreed to pay $22,617 in minimum wage and overtime back wages and an equal, additional amount in damages to four employees.

Odelsi Recycling isn’t the only company accused of such wrongdoing.

“We continue to find widespread violations in Southern California’s recycling industry,” said Kimchi Bui, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Los Angeles District Office. “This industry employs some of the most vulnerable workers we see.

“Simply paying workers a salary does not mean that they are not entitled to minimum wage and overtime. We will continue investigating and holding employers accountable as long as we continue to find recyclers shortchanging their employees.”

Los Angeles “Wage Theft Capital”

Wage theft is the illegal practice of not paying workers for all of their work including; violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock, and much more.

  Studies by the UCLA Labor Center show wage theft violations in Los Angeles County amount to $26 million per week or $1.4 billion annually. This is more than twice that of New York City or Chicago, deeming Los Angeles as the “wage theft capital of the country.”

Approximately 750,000 workers, or 17 percent of all workers, work for low-wages. Two-thirds of those workers frequently experience wage theft and workplace violations, including tip stealing and employer retaliation. Restaurant and garment workers, day laborers and workers at recycling and other low-wage industries are often at the forefront of this problem.

While hundreds of complaints are filed each week, experts consider that the problem maybe even more widespread because many employees who suffer it simply don’t report it. Reasons can include employees who speak little English, are not legally in the country or simply don’t know their rights.

And while a complaint and a decision after an investigation may be helpful, it doesn’t always translate into actual payments to the aggrieved workers. A study by the National Employment Law Project and the UCLA Labor Center reported that 83 percent of workers in California who win their wage theft case don’t recover their unpaid salaries.

State Senate Bill 588

On Jan. 1, the “California Fair Day’s Pay Act” became law in an effort to crack down on wage theft by giving the California Labor Commissioner the right to use any of the existing remedies available to a judgment creditor, and to act as a levying officer when enforcing a judgment.

Now if an employee brings a successful wage claim against an employer, the Labor Commissioner can now place a lien on the employer’s property or levy on the business’ bank accounts and/or accounts receivable.  If the aggrieved employee incurred attorneys’ fees, then the Labor Commissioner can include those attorneys’ fees in the lien or levy.

In addition, SB 588 prevents an employer from closing down his or her business and re-opening under a new name in order to avoid their debts to workers.

 Moreover, once an employer is found to have engaged in wage theft, SB 588 allows the Labor Commissioner to require that employer to post a bond in order to continue to do business in the state.  The bond amount ranges from $50,000 to $150,000 depending on the amount of wages found owing.  Employers who fail to post the required bond can have their business license revoked by the Labor Commissioner.

For more information about federal wage laws administered by the Wage and Hour Division, or to file a complaint, call the agency’s toll-free helpline at (866) 487-9243. All services are free and confidential. Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.