THE Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) and other members of the California Domestic Workers Coalition (CDWC) gathered outside of Fairwinds, an upscale senior living facility in West Hills, California, to reveal to the facility and its residents of Health Alliance Nurses Corporation’s (Health Alliance) alleged exploitation of its workers.
“We are here as part of our campaign to let everyone know that something is very wrong in the domestic work industry, with a special focus today on the home care industry,” said PWC Executive Director Aquilina Versoza at the rally on Wednesday, August 2.
The demonstration was part of a public campaign launched on December 1, 2015 towards the caregiver agency which has been accused of exploiting and abusing its employees through unfair wages and intimidation.
Former Health Alliance employee Rufina Tubo shared her experience of working with the agency in 2015.
“I was paid for $150 a day for my live-in, 24-hour stay job. If you calculate it, that’s only $5 an hour, even if there is already a law that provides protection for caregivers,” shared Tubo in her speech referring to the 2016 Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which was recently approved by CA legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown.
She added that the company was supposed to pay its workers $330 a day for $10 an hour.
“From all caregivers past or present, we demand that they [Health Alliance] pay us the correct wages outlined for us,” Tubo said.
Upon the start of accusations and investigations, the company’s owner Emelyn Nishi Entino, known to many as Emelyn Nishi, closed Health Alliance and opened under a new name, Hand Homecare Provider.
“It’s the same people and same corporation,” said Versoza.
PWC and CDWC have reached out to Health Alliance, inviting the company to sit down and talk about the concerns, issues, and violations, and to try and work with them and bring them into compliance. Nishi and her company have yet to do so, as of this writing.
Legal action has been taken against the agency. The California Labor Commissioner’s Office and its Bureau of Field Enforcement (BOFE) launched an investigation against Health Alliance, as the company refused to hand over documents throughout the ongoing legal process.
In May of this year, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer filed suit against the corporation for repeatedly failing to pay workers minimum wage or overtime earned. “The LA City Attorney’s Office did a lot of evidence gathering and found enough evidence to file case against Emelyn and her corporations,” said Versoza.
In a previous report by Asian Journal, Feuer expressed his concerns during a press conference at City Hall back on May 11. “Stealing wages from hardworking people just trying to make ends meet is reprehensible,” said Feuer. “No worker should be forced into poverty because their employer denies them a wage to which the law entitles them.”
According to the lawsuit, which goes to hearing soon, Health Alliance has employed over 200 immigrants between 2013 and 2016. Versoza shared that the lawsuit can result in over $9 million of restitution for the workers — majority of whom are Filipino — making this a multimillion-dollar case. This does not include extra penalties and damages, she adds.
The suit claims clients (“i.e., families seeking a caregiver for a loved one”) were charged between $170 to $250 per day for 24-hour in-home domestic care. Employees were allegedly paid only $100 to $125 per shift, equating to as little as $5.50 per hour or less.
Minimum wage in the state of California is $10.00 per hour for businesses with 25 employees or less, and $10.50 per hour for those with 26 employees or more.
Caregivers at the home care provider were also allegedly pressured to falsify time records to avoid overtime payments; refusing often meant termination. The lawsuit adds that the company routinely fired employees who voiced any discontent and threatened them with blacklisting within the industry.
The suit further alleged that caregivers were wrongly classified as independent contractors in order to maximize company profits, avoid paying federal and state payroll taxes, refrain from obtaining workers’ compensation insurance among other employee protection laws, and to avoid government investigations.
As stated in the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against unlawful business operations in addition to restitution for those victimized by wage theft during their employment. The defendants may be required to pay up to $2,500 per wage violation.
Wage theft in the domestic and home care industry is a big problem with its effects impacting both the hiring parties and employees. As the senior population grows, so does the demand for qualified health aides, and PWC has seen an increasing awareness of their protection needs.
Legislative initiatives towards protecting caregivers and other domestic workers have encouraged many to come forward.
“A lot of workers have just been fed up and have seen the success of others building up the courage to demand their rights,” said Versoza. “We’ve seen workers able to take the laws and information and raise their wages and establish overtime in their agencies.”
However, issues like wage theft remain problematic, which is why organizations like PWC and CDWC are using large collective campaigns to help educate and encourage families, individuals, and facilities to make sure caregivers are receiving the money and compensation expected.
“This is about changing the standards in the industry of how it operates,” said Versoza.
Fairwinds’ administrator has told PWC and CDWC that they would respond within a week. Until then, no public actions will be made by the organizations. If not followed through, PWC and CDWC plans to continue their public campaign of exposing the agency.
The Asian Journal has reached out to Hand Homecare Provider, but the company has not returned the calls. (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)