Temp workers, allies, demand Billerica employer restore fired workers, end wage theft
The morning of February 19th, MassCOSH and former employees hand delivered a written Letter of Complaint to the supply chain company Fulfillment America and its contracted temporary agency seeking an end to wage theft, unlawful firings, and harassment that had plagued the workers for years during their employment. The former workers, were once officially employed by Job Done but supervised, controlled and disciplined by Fulfillment America.
The letter signed by the workers insists that the two companies respond to a workers’ class action lawsuit filed in 2012 and pay overtime wages due and address safety concerns, including overloading workers in vans transporting them to the company and requiring workers to work at an unsafe pace. Click here to read a copy of the letter.
Fulfillment America and Job Done repeatedly refused to meet with the workers to settle their demands, forcing the group to lead a protest in front of the facility.
“We are here to deliver a letter to Fulfillment America and Job Done demanding that the companies pay us the money that is owed to us and that unjust firings be reversed,” said Mercedes Mendez, one of 15 former employees and activists who protested alleged wage violations and unjust firings at the company on Wednesday morning.
According to its website, Billerica–based Fulfillment America is a “world class fulfillment services company” with clients such as Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Fidelity Investments, and Benjamin Moore. However, signs held in protest by current and former workers claim that the company and Job Done failed to fulfill their employment obligations to employees who worked an average of 50 to 60 hours a week, denying the workers hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay and subjecting them to threats and harassment.
The letter also demands that the companies rehire an employee who was fired after attending a meeting about the class action lawsuit.
"I am here because I have been retaliated against simply for going to a meeting that I was invited to and learn about my rights, I don't understand why I was fired,” said former employee Alcides Villegas.
According to documents obtained by MassCOSH, Job Done admits that they were not able to pay overtime to the workers because Fulfillment America did not pay them enough to do so. Fulfillment America kept track of the hours worked, so the company knew the money they paid the temporary agency was insufficient.
An investigation led by MassCOSH found that Job Done is owned by a former Fulfillment America employee and was created solely for the purpose of being the intermediary for the company’s employees. MassCOSH has found these temp-company relationships to be common, creating conditions rife with injustices like those experienced by Fulfillment America workers.
“We are seeing this as an unfortunate growing trend,” said Jonny Arevalo, MassCOSH’s worker center representative. “Companies seem to think that they can ignore state and federal labor laws simply by using a temporary agency as their middleman. Well, they can’t.”
“This is a classic example of a large company trying to evade the wage laws by relying on a placement agency. In this case it’s even more flagrant, because it appears that Fulfillment America created Job Done for this very purpose,” said Steve Churchill, an attorney and partner at Fair Work, P.C., who is co-counsel in the case. “When confronted with this lawsuit, Job Done says it doesn’t have enough money to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars of unpaid overtime, and Fulfillment America says it’s not responsible, even though it clearly benefitted from the workers’ labor. In our view, this is precisely the type of scheme that the Massachusetts legislature and courts have said is unlawful.”
Near the end of 2012, a worker filed a class action law suit against Job Done and Fulfillment America seeking compensation for overtime pay. In early February of 2014, the temporary agency responded by delivering letters to each employee informing them of how much overtime pay they were owed but that the agency lacked the funds to pay them. The letters did not mention that Fulfillment America would have to pay if found liable in the case. The agency urged the workers to sign releases agreeing to accept one-quarter of their wages due, just 1/12th of what the workers could receive if they remained involved in the case and received damages. Workers have stated they feel forced to sign the releases because if they don't they will lose their jobs.
"The more workers I speak to and the more we investigate the case, the clearer it is that Fulfillment America should be responsible for paying these workers their hard-earned overtime pay,” said Thomas Smith, attorney and Executive Director of the legal services organization Justice At Work, who is co-counseling with Churchill. “Unfortunately, instead of stepping up and assuming responsibility, Fulfillment America has drawn out the legal process--hoping to hide behind their lawyers, and hoping that the fear and intimidation the workers are facing will force them to sign away their rights in this case."