Raided Massachusetts firm settles wages suit

The manufacturing company Michael Bianco, Inc. has agreed to pay $850,000 to settle a federal class action lawsuit over unpaid overtime and wages at its former factory in New Bedford, Mass. The settlement includes $613,000 in unpaid wages to be distributed to 764 workers, including some of the 361 immigrant workers who were arrested in an ICE raid at the factory on March 6, 2007. Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), which has provided free counsel to more than 100 of the arrested workers, announced the settlement at a Nov. 18 press conference. GBLS joined with South Coastal Counties Legal Services and attorney Philip Gordon of the Gordon Law Group in filing the lawsuit last year in federal district court in Boston.

The lawsuit charged that Bianco “systematically and intentionally violated the laws requiring time-and-a-half for overtime work by creating a sham second corporation called Front Line Defense Inc.” Employees who worked more than eight hours on the same day were required to clock out of day shifts at 5 PM from Michael Bianco Inc. and clock back in for evening shifts at 5:30 PM with Front Line, the suit alleged. The workers received separate paychecks from Bianco and Front Line. Audrey Richardson, a senior attorney at GBLS, said workers had sought overtime before the raid, but former Bianco owner Francesco Insolia had made it “crystal clear” that he would not pay overtime. In addition to the overtime pay, the settlement requires Bianco to pay wages withheld from workers who were as little as one minute late for work, according to GBLS. The lawsuit alleged that workers were routinely docked 15 to 30 minutes of pay because they had waited in long lines to punch in for work due to an insufficient number of time

The settlement covers the six named plaintiffs—one current and five former Bianco employees—and all employees who worked for Michael Bianco and/or Front Line Defense between 2004 and March 2007. The US Department of Labor will supervise and administer the $613,000 in restitution payments to 764 workers, who will receive payments ranging from less than $20 to more than $8,000, depending on the length of employment at the plant and the number of overtime hours worked, said Richardson. Most workers will receive between $1,000 and $5,000. The settlement covers employees who are authorized to work and those who lack work authorization; Richardson noted that federal laws governing payment of wages and overtime cover all workers regardless of their immigration status. The six plaintiffs named in the lawsuit will receive a bonus of $2,000 each for their courage in testifying, Richardson said.

The settlement also includes money for community groups in New Bedford that support and organize immigrant workers, and partial compensation for attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by legal services groups representing the workers. GBLS and Organization Maya K’iche, a New Bedford advocacy group for Guatemalan Mayans, will assist in locating eligible workers and distributing checks. The groups have kept in touch with many of the workers who were deported and will work with family members to track down other workers, said Richardson. According to ICE, of 361 Bianco workers arrested in the raid, 168 have been deported; 116 have cases pending in immigration court; 26 have received final deportation orders; and 16 have had their legal status adjusted, allowing them to remain in the US. The situation of the other 35 workers was unclear. (Standard-Times, New Bedford, Nov. 19; Boston Globe, Nov. 19; GBLS press release, Nov. 18)

On Nov. 3, the US Attorney’s office in Boston announced that Michael Bianco Inc. had pleaded guilty to criminal charges of hiring and harboring unauthorized immigrants, fraudulently misrepresenting social security numbers and failing to pay overtime. In the same plea agreement, Insolia, the company’s president and principal shareholder, pleaded guilty to helping harbor and conceal unauthorized immigrants by allowing the company to submit false social security numbers to the government as if they were real. Insolia accepted a prison term of 12 to 18 months and a fine of $30,000. The company will have to pay a fine of approximately $1.5 million and another $460,000 in restitution for the overtime owed to employees. The restitution in the criminal case will be put toward the settlement of the class action lawsuit. On Oct. 24, Dilia Costa, production manager for Michael Bianco Inc., pleaded guilty to charges of hiring and harboring unauthorized immigrants. The company’s contracts administrator, Gloria Melo, pleaded guilty on Oct. 24 to one count of continuing to employ unauthorized workers after the company had reason to know they were unauthorized.

The criminal case against Michael Bianco Inc. was investigated by ICE with assistance from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, the Department of Defense’s Criminal Investigative Service, the US Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Massachusetts and the US Postal Inspection Service. (ICE news release, Nov. 3; Standard-Times, Nov. 19; Boston Globe, Nov. 19)

Eagle Industries Inc. purchased the former Bianco plant in New Bedford in November 2007 and took over the company’s Department of Defense contracts to make military equipment for US troops. (Standard-Times, Nov. 19)

From Immigration News Briefs, Nov. 22

See our last posts on the politics of immigration and the struggle in Massachusetts.