February 13, 2004

Mexican Consulate Urges Immigrants to Join in California Supermarket Lawsuit

By Loretta Kalb

The Mexican Consulate in Sacramento put its weight Tuesday behind efforts to encourage janitors — mainly Mexican immigrants — to join a class-action lawsuit against several California supermarket chains over wages.

The suit against Albertson’s Inc., Ralphs Grocery Co., Safeway Inc. and its subsidiary Vons asserts that the stores unlawfully treated janitors as independent contractors.

That contractor status resulted in workers being deprived of millions of dollars annually in overtime pay, paid breaks and other wages, the suit said.

“Our main interest is the protection of our people,” said Consul General Alejandra Balogna at a news conference. “We hope that this case can be resolved in favor of our people.”

Representatives of the markets did not return calls requesting comment on the case.

The suit in U.S. District Court, Central District of California, is set to reach trial in Los Angeles in June. While the case is aimed mainly at stores in Southern California, the suit was amended to add Safeway in the north state.

Attorney Mark Talamantes of San Francisco said about 2,000 janitors who worked at the markets between January 1994 and January 2003 are potential class members.

An estimated 400 have joined the suit so far. The consulate and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund urged janitors to call toll-free (888) 546-7439 for information. The court-imposed deadline to join the case is March 19.

Talamantes said another defendant, Building One Service Solutions of Texas, which contracted with the supermarkets for the janitors, recently settled for $900,000. That settlement awaits court approval.

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