By Emily Hoeven
For eight years, the Los Angeles-based janitorial service provider Pacific Commercial hired one employee to work from morning until dusk, but also commissioned an independent contractor to take the night shift.
The catch: The employee and the contractor were the same person, a 52-year-old named Edith Lopez.
By classifying Lopez as a non-employee from 5 to 10 p.m., Pacific Commercial was able to save on overtime pay, as well as other benefits and protections guaranteed to full-time employees.
Lopez caught a break earlier this year. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office filed criminal charges against Pacific Commercial’s owner, Moon Hyuk Hahn. He took a plea deal, paying Lopez $30,000 in restitution as part of a $1.6 million settlement.
Cases of wage theft rarely result in criminal charges. But in their latest installment in an ongoing series, reporters on Jeanne Kuang and Lil Kalish of CalMatters’ California Divide team write that could be changing.
- Santa Clara County District Attorney investigator Michael Whittington: “We truly turned our focus to finding what we called the human toll of fraud investigations, and focusing on wage theft first.”
The challenge for prosecutors, UCLA’s Tia Koonse said, is to strike a balance between cracking down hard enough to deter scofflaw bosses, but not so hard you close their businesses for good.
- Koonse: “If they’re behind bars, they’re definitely not paying their workers.”