RIVERSIDE (CBS) — Three logistics companies with warehousing operations in Jurupa Valley routinely cheated workers of their wages, refused to allow them meal breaks and resorted to retaliatory measures if they complained, two
men suing the firms alleged Tuesday.

“I went 28 consecutive days without a day off,” said Juan Chavez, speaking through a Spanish interpreter. “There were no lunch breaks, no rest breaks. I’m here today to demand justice.”

Chavez and around 30 other people associated with Fontana-based Warehouse Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, gathered outside the Riverside County Administrative Center to condemn what they alleged were labor violations by Memphis, Tenn.-based Impact Logistics Inc., Rocky Mount, N.C.-based Premier Warehousing Ventures LLC and Green Bay-based Schneider  Logistics.

The firms operate three warehouses in the area of Interstate 15, Hamner Avenue and Riverside Drive.

“There are a large amount of abuses against workers there,” said Everardo Carrillo, speaking through a Spanish interpreter. “I once worked from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. the next day. We unloaded (truck) containers when conditions were very bad, 110 degrees inside. The pay arrangement was very unorganized. If you asked questions, you could be laid off for two or three days or a week.”

Carrillo, Chavez and four other men employed or previously employed by the logistics companies filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in federal court in Riverside on Monday seeking back wages, including overtime compensation and
payments for missed meal breaks, for themselves and their co-workers, numbering between 200 and 500 people.

According to the men’s attorneys, hired by WWU, the estimated loss to the plaintiffs is believed to be around $10 million.

According to the 68-page lawsuit, the violations occurred between November 2009 and June of this year. The plaintiffs said problems began when supervisors eliminated the use of punch cards, compelling them to use “sign-in” sheets instead.

Workers were prohibited from logging their hours, which were supposedly tracked by crew chiefs who oversaw groups of employees, according to the suit.

Supervisors instituted a “piece rate” system, under which teams of workers would be paid according to the number of boxes they unloaded from a semi truck container, the plaintiffs allege.

“Defendants did not, and do not, pay those workers for the work they perform on any container that is not completely unloaded by the end of the worker’s shift,” according to the suit.

Court papers also alleged that workers would not be compensated for “incidental” assignments, including sweeping the warehouse floor, locating missing boxes, breaking down pallets or filing paperwork.

Workers were routinely presented with payment stubs that did not specify how their wages were calculated, leading to complaints, according to the suit.

In the case of Premier, laborers were compelled to wear a company T-shirt while on the job, paying $1 a day for the privilege — money that was docked from their paychecks, according to the plaintiffs.

Anyone who objected was sent home without pay, even after working a half-day, or they were terminated, the suit alleges.

“We have to expose the dirty little secret that’s going on inside these buildings,” said Guadalupe Palma with WWU. “This is only the beginning for warehouse workers.”

Last week, the California Department of Industrial Relations slapped Impact Logistics and Premier Warehousing with citations for allegedly failing to keep proper payroll records and requiring employees to work extra hours without proportional pay. Additionally, Impact was fined $499,000.

Schneider was not cited, but state regulators emphasized the investigation is ongoing.

The warehouses primarily handle merchandise bound for Walmart stores, whose workers are not unionized.

Impact Logistics Chief Operating Officer Brett Veach released a statement Friday saying the company was doing its utmost to be “100 percent compliant with the state’s laws concerning the wage requirements for employees.”