Immigrant Workers File Federal Class Action Lawsuit Against Local 99¢ Stores, Seeking Unpaid Wages and Overtime

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
January 9, 2001 12:00 am

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JERSEY CITY, NJ– The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today announced the filing of a federal lawsuit on behalf of eight immigrant workers who are seeking unpaid wages and overtime from Universal Distribution Center, a local corporation that operates a chain of bargain stores throughout the New York and New Jersey region.

“Employees in New Jersey are protected by basic wage and hour laws,” said Jennifer Ching, staff attorney for the Immigrant Workers’ Rights Project at the ACLU of New Jersey. “By asserting their legal rights, these immigrant workers are making the larger statement that they will no longer tolerate the blatant exploitation of their communities.”

The workers’ claims, brought as a class action on behalf of themselves and all current and former employees dating back to 1994, challenge the cruel and unlawful working conditions they faced while employed by Universal Distribution, including long hours without adequate wages or overtime, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, discriminatory abuse and retaliation for speaking out about their rights.

When a worker did not wish to work two or three days in a row without returning to his home, the bosses would deceive us,” said Fernando Islas, one of the plaintiffs and workers. “They would tell us that they had some things to take care of and would leave, locking us inside the store overnight and not returning until the next day.”

In August 1999, the workers filed a wage and hour complaint with the New Jersey Department of Labor. More than a year later, after a stalled investigation and negotiations, the workers took their case to court.

The ACLU’s legal complaint outlines several typical instances of the abuse faced by the workers, including shifts spanning 24 to 72 hours at a time and having to endure continual racial harassment.

“These workers are setting an important precedent for all immigrant workers in New Jersey by coming forward to denounce the abuses they faced,” said Denis Johnston, Director of the Immigrant Rights Program of the American Friends Service Committee in Newark, an organization that has assisted the workers over the past year. “Their struggle is not merely for monetary compensation but rather to assert their fundamental human right to be treated with dignity and justice.”

The lawsuit, Cruz et al. v. Universal Distribution Center, LLC et al. was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

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