Activist Gets More Time to Rebut Claims

Times Staff Writer

A state deputy labor commissioner Wednesday gave Hermandad Mexicana Nacional director Nativo V. Lopez a week to produce more evidence rebutting two former employees’ claims for about $1,200 in unpaid benefits.

Deputy Labor Commissioner M.C. Alvarez, who presided at a closed-door settlement conference in the case Monday in Santa Ana, said she would decide “sometime next week” whether the former employees’ claims warrant a formal hearing.

Lopez, who helped found the local Hermandad chapter in 1982, has appeared dozens of times before the labor commissioner on behalf of his group’s low-income--and often illegal alien--members. Monday was the first time he had to defend himself as an employer charged with unfair labor practices.

“It’s a thorn,” Lopez said. “But it’ll be resolved shortly.”


The two employees, Maria A. Thompson, former office manager, and Teresa R. Mendoza, a secretary who also worked as a paralegal, resigned in September because of differences with Lopez and his style of management, they said. They are claiming a total of $1,228 in unpaid vacation, holidays and unreimbursed expenses.

Mendoza produced a letter Wednesday signed by Martin Rincon, former vice president of the board of directors of the local Hermandad chapter, in which he said the board approved such benefits last spring.

Lopez said that the organization has never granted paid vacations or holidays and that he would obtain declarations from other board members rebutting Rincon’s statement.

Thompson, who now works in a church office in Santa Ana, and Mendoza, who works for the Orange County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said they were pleased with Monday’s proceeding.


“It showed that there was something to investigate,” Thompson said. “We’re not going to settle this--we want to go all the way to a hearing.”

Alvarez told Lopez on Wednesday that Hermandad may have to pay a penalty for withholding the women’s final paychecks more than the permitted 72 hours after they resigned. Mendoza’s check, totaling $98, was withheld about five weeks, while Thompson did not get her check for $228 until about six weeks after she quit.

Lopez said Alvarez told him that the penalty would probably be a few hundred dollars, although the maximum penalty he

could face is much higher--$2,500, Thompson said. Thompson said Lopez offered her $75 to settle the penalty--Lopez says the figure was $100--but she refused.


“She (Alvarez) said we should have paid (right away), and she was right on that score,” said Lopez, who had argued that the checks were withheld because hours were still in dispute and the women had certain documents that he wanted back.

Another issue at the conference was Hermandad’s policy of requiring paid staff members to work volunteer hours. Alvarez said if the hours are reflected on time sheets they must be considered overtime, according to Lopez. Mendoza estimated that she may be owed $600 in overtime pay.

Lopez said Hermandad “will not budge one iota from our philosophy that staff people should be urged to give volunteer hours . . . but they may not be recorded on time sheets anymore.”