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California Supermarkets, Immigrant Janitors Settle

LOS ANGELES - Albertsons, Ralphs, and Vons have reached a tentative $22.4 million settlement in a class action brought by 2,100 immigrant janitors, mostly from Mexico, who alleged that they normally earned only $3.50 an hour and never received overtime, according to published accounts.

Many of the janitors said that they worked upwards of 70 hours per week, frequently seven days a week from 10:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.

The grocers originally maintained that they were not liable, since their cleaning contractors, and not the supermarkets, hired the janitors, but agreed to the tentative settlement after Judge Percy Anderson of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles rejected their motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Although the judge was expected to approve the settlement on Monday, he postponed approval, perhaps until a Jan. 24 hearing, because Albertsons had failed to post notices about the proposed settlement in its California stores to keep its cleaning staffs informed of developments in the case.

When the lawsuit, Flores v. Albertsons, was first filed in 2002 by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and others on behalf of eight named plaintiffs, Encompass Services and Building One Service Solutions, the principal cleaning contractors involved, were named as defendants, as well. Both companies have since declared bankruptcy.

When contacted by Progressive Grocer, Albertsons, Ralphs, and Vons had no immediate comment.

The lawsuit was necessary to reverse a trend in which employers depend on contractors who often break the law, while the companies claim ignorance, according to the janitors' representatives.
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