Edward Sifuentes, North County Times (San Diego), Mar. 19
SAN DIEGO — The Mexican Consulate in San Diego lent its support Monday to a campaign asking janitors, many of whom are Mexican immigrants, to join a class-action lawsuit against several of the state’s largest supermarket chains.
Attorneys for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Latino rights organization, filed the lawsuit on behalf of janitors who worked at Albertson’s, Ralphs and Vons markets. It alleges that the stores unlawfully treated the workers as independent contractors.
By treating the janitors as contractors, the supermarkets avoided paying them millions of dollars each year in benefits, overtime and other wages, the attorneys said.
The lawsuit is expected to go to trial in mid-June. Recently, advocates asked Mexican officials for their support in searching for Latino janitors who worked at the supermarkets between 1994 and 2003, some of whom may have returned to Mexico.
The Mexican consul general in San Diego said Mexican nationals who were employed by the supermarkets should join the case.
“This lawsuit is important because it involves large numbers of our nationals, and because it insists that their rights be respected regardless of their legal status,” said Consul General Luis Cabrera Cuaron at a press conference held in his San Diego office.
Attorneys for the supermarkets did not return calls for comment.
Advocates for the janitors said there were 700 workers who have been listed in the lawsuit, but they said there may be hundreds more eligible.
Many of them may be hesitant to call because they are working illegally in the country, said Lilia Esther Garcia, executive director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a Los Angeles-based legal aid group that took part in investigating the allegations.
“We need to continue to be courageous,” Garcia said. “We have had many people come forward and nothing has happened to those workers.”
Steven Joaquin Reyes, an attorney for the Mexican American legal aid group, said the workers do not have to be fearful because the judge in the case has already ruled that the workers’ immigration status is not relevant to the issue of whether they were paid fairly.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles two years ago and is expected to reach trial June 15. Federal District Court Judge Percy Anderson gave potential class members until April 16 to join the lawsuit.
About 2,000 janitors who worked at the supermarkets between January 1994 and January 2003 may be eligible to join, Reyes said. Several hundred of the janitors are believed to have worked at San Diego County supermarkets, advocates said.
The lawsuit alleges that beginning in 1994 the supermarkets began hiring janitors indirectly through contractors, such as Building One Service Solutions Inc., Encompass and others. The contractors allegedly paid the janitors in cash or with personal checks, without payroll tax deductions or Social Security deductions.
Potential class members were asked to call the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund at (888) 546-7439. From Mexico, call (001 888) 546-7439.
Mexico Joins Hands with LAUSD
Rachel Uranga, Los Angeles Daily News, Mar. 17
Hoping to boost academic performance and lower dropout rates among Latino students, the Mexican government and Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced a joint outreach program Wednesday targeting Spanish-speaking families.
Much of the mostly volunteer program, which could ultimately include a credentialing of LAUSD teachers in Mexico, already exists, but officials hope to expand its reach over the next few years.
Ruben Beltran, Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles, said the partnership will highlight the importance of education among Latinos, who comprise 72 percent of the 750,000 students in the Los Angeles district.
“We want to lower the dropout rate in three or four years,” he said. “We want to produce a better environment (for) the Mexican children here.”
According to state figures, 23.6 percent of Latino students in the Class of 2002 dropped out of LAUSD high schools, compared with 22 percent districtwide. Latinos also perform below average on standardized tests.
Under the program, the Mexican Consulate will encourage parental involvement through traditional groups, such as the PTA, by promoting events with fliers and pamphlets.
Educators say increased parent participation is key to improving grades and students’ interest in school.
The consulate also vowed to increase the number of Spanish-language books it donates to the district and develop more campus-based community plazas, made up of computer banks and homework stations sponsored by Mexican companies.
Currently, North Hollywood High is the district’s only school with such a plaza.
“We want higher student achievement, parental involvement, and more teachers,” said Jose Huizar, who was born in Mexico and came to the United States at age 3. Given the budget constraints, any bit of help is welcomed, he said. “Overall, it’s going to improve student achievement.”
The district also hopes to work with the consulate on building a pool of potential teachers in Mexico over the next few years when 140 schools will be built and the demand for credentialed, Spanish-speaking teachers is expected to surge.