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Dock Workers’ Suit Over Pay Is Settled

Times Staff Writer

For some 12,000 California dockworkers, the ship has come in.

West Coast marine terminal operators have agreed to pay $12.9 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by nonunion dockworkers who claimed that they were being shortchanged on their hours and paychecks.

The case was brought on behalf of about 12,000 members of the so-called casual labor force who sought work loading and unloading ships and performing other duties at Los Angeles and Long Beach and other California ports between April 1999 and June 16, 2006. The workers had claimed that a typical day’s wages were trimmed by 15 minutes to half an hour and sometimes more, said Patrick A. Carreon, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

Notices about the settlement, which received preliminary approval earlier this month from Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney, were sent Tuesday to the workers, Carreon said.

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The original lawsuit was filed against the Pacific Maritime Assn. in 2003 by Mark Wisniewski, a casual worker who has since become a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The PMA represents about 75 marine terminal operators, including Maersk Inc. and SSA Marine Inc., in their negotiations with the union.

The PMA said that it was “pleased to have reached an equitable, fair settlement,” noting in a statement that there was no judicial ruling on the merits of the case.

In addition, the group said that waterfront conditions had changed, so “this matter is unlikely to be an issue in the future. With an increase in the size of the registered workforce and the addition of new casual workers, the PMA is confident that work on the waterfront will continue to run smoothly, even at a time of record cargo volume.”

Wisniewski was thrilled about the outcome. He described how casuals show up at an open-air hiring hall every day, hoping that the number of gangs needed to work the docks would exceed the available amount of union labor. Only then would they get work, he said. He added that the casuals, who do not receive health and other benefits, had to log 4,000 hours of work before they were eligible to join the union.

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The lawsuit claimed that the terminal operators shortchanged the workers by not counting all the hours they put in or not paying them for travel time as required by law, Carreon said. An additional 2% was deducted from the workers’ pay each week, ostensibly to help defray the cost of running the casual hiring hall, he said.

Potential class members can file a claim for a portion of the settlement or can object to the terms and opt to pursue a separate claim against the terminal operators.

Those eligible worked primarily at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, but some were also employed at the ports of Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Eureka, San Diego, Port Hueneme and Stockton.


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