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Border crossed again in back pay case

Times Staff Writer

A handful of workers caught in an immigration sweep across California and 16 other states and forced from the country earlier this year are now stepping forward to claim back wages they say their former employer owes them.

The raids netted 23 workers from Orange County who were asked to leave the country. At least four of them have reentered the United States illegally and have since written to the federal Department of Labor to claim back wages.

“We didn’t come back for a gift,” said one of the Orange County workers, who like the others asked not to be identified because he feared deportation. “We came back for what we worked for. Independent of how we came into this country, we were working hard, and we just want to be paid for what we did.”

In February, about 200 workers were nabbed in raids on 60 work sites, including ESPN Zone in Anaheim and the House of Blues in Anaheim and West Hollywood. The workers were employed by Florida-based janitorial firm Rosenbaum-Cunningham International, which contracted with national chains.

The four Orange County workers plan to join a federal lawsuit filed by 18 RCI workers in Pennsylvania who say their former company owes them overtime pay.

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The four said they were arrested just hours before they were to be paid their biweekly wage, which ranged from $650 to $800 in cash.

They were also owed one more week’s salary, which they said was withheld when they started their jobs.

Seven former workers who cleaned the House of Blues in West Hollywood were expected to join the federal lawsuit this week to get overtime pay, said Justin Mixon, the Pennsylvania attorney handling the federal lawsuit.

Luis Miguel Ortiz Haro, the Mexican consul in Santa Ana, helped the four Orange County workers file a complaint with the Department of Labor and said he was determining whether there were more California workers who could demand wages from RCI.

“What we don’t know is how many of these workers were not paid,” Ortiz Haro said.

“It’s likely there are hundreds out there.”

Mixon said he didn’t know whether workers weren’t “coming forward because they are afraid. We don’t know where they are in many cases, and what’s likely is they are so far away they don’t know they can file suit.”

RCI representatives could not be reached for comment.

Similar complaints since 2004 have led to the payment of more than $3 million in back wages from Southern California employers, public documents show.

Deanne Amaden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Labor, said the government chooses to protect all workers no matter their immigration status.

“If the Fair Labor Standards Act is not enforced with some workers

The four Orange County workers said they worked for RCI in Orange County at ESPN Zone, House of Blues and Dave and Buster’s, earning $5.15 to $6.34 an hour, less than California’s minimum wage of $7.50. They said they worked seven days a week, at least nine hours a day.

A 23-count indictment filed against RCI in February says chain restaurant clients paid RCI more than $54 million from 2001 to 2005. The government alleges RCI did not withhold from workers and send the federal government the required amounts in taxes, Social Security and other payments, avoiding about $18 million in such obligations.

jennifer.delson@latimes.com


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