Article features Yvonne Medrano, Bet Tzedek Employment Rights Project (ERP) Attorney
By Nate Perez
Sinagtala Limbo cared for elderly residents and hospice patients at Adat Shalom in West Hills, a residential care and board facility. Limbo worked 24 hours a day, six days a week, but was paid a monthly flat fixed rate of $1,800 a month, equaling to less than $3 an hour. And she wasn’t alone. Around 148 workers received similar pay.
“I knew that I should be getting paid more, but I continued working there because I love caring for the elderly, and I’m passionate about helping people,” Limbo said. “I was also afraid to lose my only source of income, and I did not know that I had rights as a worker despite my immigration status.”
But after a seven-year-long investigation by California’s Labor Department, the workers from six facilities in West Hills were awarded $2 million dollars on Wednesday at the Pilipino Worker Center in Echo Park.
And in spite of the big settlement, Limbo said the highlight of the seven-year-long saga was finding her voice and the courage to pay back.
“My message to all my fellow caregivers and other workers out there, if you have experienced a labor violation in your workplace, like wage theft, exploitation and abuse, be strong and courageous,” she said.” In Tagalog we say, ‘wag kang bumitaw, wag kang susuko.’ Don’t let go, don’t give up.”
Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower said workers will eventually be paid a total of $5.5 million dollars, making it the state’s largest judgment in a residential care facility wage theft case.
“Unfortunately, many of the wage judgments issued are not recoverable because either defendants are judgment proof or the judgments are unenforceable,” García-Brower said.
The Pilipino Workers Center helped workers with the case after they suspected the company was attempting to sell property and shifting assets, according to García-Brower.
“What’s significant about this case … workers alerted the Pilipino agency of the potential illegal transfer of assets to avoid paying workers their own money,” she said. “Therefore, we were able to move swiftly and be able to take the necessary actions by filing a fraudulent transfer lawsuit to protect the resources so that workers can be paid.”
Limbo said the Pilipino Workers Center educated her about her rights, regardless of race or immigration status — and that workers should be treated with dignity and respect.
“My eyes were opened to the truth,” Limbo said. “Yes, I am a caregiver and the work that I do is important. I contribute to society. I contribute to the economy, and I contribute to our community.”
Yvonne Medrano represented the workers during the Labor Commissioner’s appeal hearing. She said this case is an example of what happens when government agencies, workers centers, and legal aid providers come together and hold employers accountable.
“We hope this sends a loud and clear message to residential care home employers,” Medrano said. “Pay your workers. If you don’t, we will go after you and we will fight vigorously to make sure that workers get money back in their pockets.”