A lawyer, an advocate and five warehouse workers marched into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago on Monday morning to file a class-action lawsuit against a New Lenox staffing agency that they say shortchanged its workers.
Eight warehouse workers were listed as plaintiffs in the case against Reliable Employment Services, Inc., 14422 Edison Drive. The case language alleges the workers “and other laborers similarly situated were denied overtime and other promised wages owed to them and even, in many cases, denied the minimum wage.”
Attorney Chris Williams of Working Hands Legal Clinic represented the plaintiffs Monday. The group of workers was also accompanied by coordinator Abraham Mwaura of Warehouse Workers for Justice, an advocacy group that have been working with the plaintiffs since the overtime-heavy holiday season.
“Hopefully by us filing this lawsuit, they’ll step up to pay people accordingly for what they’re worth,” said Robert Hines, one of the workers present Monday. “We’re the ones doing all the grind-work, we’re the ones in the trenches, we’re the ones making sure they’re able to get a check.”
The suit also lists as defendants Schneider Logistics Inc., which operates the Elwood warehouse where the workers were placed, and Reliable Employment CEO Dan Gallagher individually. The Schneider warehouse is owned by Walmart.
Gallagher did not return calls seeking comment Monday, but last week maintained that everything his business does is legal and said he had scheduled meetings with some employees to go over their documentation.
"It’s partially confusion, it’s partially stirred up (by the Warehouse Workers for Justice)," Gallagher said of the claims last week. "Their complaint is embellished."
Some employees went to the staffing agency last week . At the time, Gallagher offered to meet one-on-one with the workers to go over their pay, which is based on productivity and not hours.
"We always pay individuals at least the minimum wage," Gallagher said last week. "Many of the individuals are paid significantly higher than minimum wage because they’re more productive."
But one warehouse worker present Monday, Demetrie Collins, said he was promised a rate of $10 per hour, but was paid just $11.25 during holiday overtime hours when he should have gotten $15 per hour.
“They stole from us,” worker Demetrie Collins claims.
Mwaura said the workers were not given the mandatory four hours’ worth of pay for days that they were called in and sent home immediately. Mwaura said temp agencies will sometimes call 100 workers on a day they need 50 to make sure they have what they need, then send the extras home.
Deathrice Jimerson, 31, of Joliet, said he was told by Reliable Employment that if he doesn’t like the system, he should go find another job, which is not an easy task these days.
“They know what kind of power they have over people and they use that to their advantage and manipulate us,” said Jimerson, who can’t afford to leave Reliable Employment behind. “OK, you mistreated me. That’s very true. But I don’t have any other income so I’m forced to go to work.”
The workers want Reliable Employment to release records that would explain the company’s payouts. Mwaura said billing records might show a discrepancy between the labor hours the agency billed its clients and the hours it actually paid its employees. He also said that might not be the case.
“What you’re hoping it would show is that the company has been charging their clients (for more labor hours) than they were paying their employees,” Mwaura said.
Williams, the attorney, said the suit also seeks to place an injunction on Reliable Employment to keep the agency from underpaying employees in the future. Williams is asking for the suit to be certified as class-action, meaning every worker who has been affected, knowing or unknowing, would stand to benefit from a favorable result.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to file a lawsuit to get it, but we’ll get it," Williams said of the employees' documentation.
Mwaura said the class-action suit would cover about 120 employees at the Schneider-Walmart warehouse, most of whom work on a day-to-day basis depending on the needs of the day. The suit would cover anyone who’s worked there during the last three years.
For Hines, it's not about what he believes he's owed; it's about assuring this issue doesn't come up in the future.
"It never was about the money," he said. "They can cut me my $800 they owe me right now and I still would go through with the lawsuit. Just because they did that don’t mean they won’t do it to somebody else."
Williams said the suit will be assigned to a judge and once papers are served to the defendants they will have 30 days to respond to the allegations.