A lawsuit seeking class action status was filed against Petaluma Poultry and its parent company this month, alleging that the local business violated a handful of wage and labor laws in the past four years.
The complaint, filed in Sonoma County Superior Court June 9 on behalf of current and former employees, asserts the company failed to pay overtime and to compensate workers for time spent changing out of protective gear at the end of their shifts. Among other claims, it also alleges that the company didn’t ensure employees received statutory 30-minute meal breaks and did not provide compensation when those breaks were missed or interrupted.
“While these violations are small on an individual basis, they add up in the aggregate for the entire population of affected workers over time,” David Yeremian, managing attorney with the Los Angeles-based employment law firm David Yeremian & Associates, Inc. representing the plaintiffs, wrote in an email. “These are precisely the types of claims well suited for the class action procedure.”
The complaint was filed on behalf of Angelica Gutierrez, who worked in the production department of the Petaluma-based processing plant from 2011 to 2016, Yeremian said. At least 200 workers could have been impacted by the alleged violations, he said.
The suit seeks unpaid compensation, penalties, damages and attorneys’ fees.
“She is bringing this lawsuit to protect her rights and those of her fellow coworkers under the California labor code,” he said.
Gutierrez could not be reached for a comment.
The complaint also names Delaware-based Coleman Natural Foods and Maryland-based Perdue Foods, which owns Coleman and Petaluma Poultry. Joe Forsthoffer, a spokesman representing the three entities, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
He referred to a statement on wages and working conditions on Perdue Foods’ website.
“We continue to comply with all applicable wage and hour laws and regulations, including those related to minimum wage, overtime compensation, piece rates, and any/all legally mandated benefits,” the statement reads. “Further, we ensure all associates work within the limits of regular and overtime hours. Where overtime is required, those associates are normally granted at least one day off in every seven-day period.”
Petaluma Poultry employs 563 associates, the majority of which are hourly unionized workers, Forsthoffer said.
The United Food and Commercial Workers 8-Golden State union, which represents those workers, has a collective bargaining agreement that defines the wages, work hours and grievance procedures, President Jacques Loveall said.
“At no time did the individual who filed the lawsuit bring these claims to our attention through the grievance procedure,” Loveall said in a statement. “UFCW 8-Golden State has a longstanding contractual relationship with Petaluma Poultry and we have not encountered significant wage and hour violations.”
Yeremian said bringing the claims through the court process on a class basis broadens the reach and allows all employees who suffer from the same problems to be represented.
Executive Director of the North Bay Labor Council Jack Buckhorn said labor and wage violations are often observed in the industrial sector.
“This is just another example of how employers will exploit their workers to create more profit — so it’s really profit over people,” he said. “It has a terrible impact on the morale of employees.”