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Worker Protest Aimed to ‘Raise Public Profile’ of Ongoing Wage Theft Dispute

RAAM complaint originally filed in 2017, says attorney, but case is ‘languishing’ between City and State

Published on Monday, January 27, 2020 | 6:35 am

A demonstration against Pasadena-based RAAM Construction Company and its subcontractor, Ramara Business Consulting, is only the latest volley in a wage theft battle that has lasted more than two years.

The complaint against RAAM construction which led to the Saturday demonstration at a company job site was originally filed in 2017.

Attorney Cal Soto of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network

According to attorney Cal Soto of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), the investigation into the claim has “languished” because of an ongoing dispute between the State of California Board of Industrial Relations and the City of Pasadena.

The Saturday action was an attempt to “raise the public profile,” of the ongoing case, said Soto.

Lorenzo Alarcon and Byron Lopez, construction workers at the project at the corner of Summit Avenue and Orange Grove, were subjected to “egregious labor violations” during their time on the job, Soto said.

Soto claimed Alarcon and Lopez were misclassified as independent contractors and not RAAM employees, were not paid fully for the work they completed and were subject to wage theft by not being paid minimum wage.

Worse, the workers, according to Soto, were also ordered to pay kickbacks to their supervisors, in order to keep their positions.

The accusations were made against the two subcontractors, and not Heritage Housing Partners (HHP), the developers of the project.

Attorney Dale Gronemeier representing NDLON at the time the claims were made, said that any lawsuit would not be directed at Heritage Housing Partners, adding, “We have no reason to believe that Heritage Housing Partners knew about the wage theft.”

In the RAAM case, the dispute between the City and State is over whether or not the Summit Grove affordable housing project is a “public works” project. According to Soto, projects which are classified as “public works” projects pay workers at a higher “prevailing wage” rate.

A formal lawsuit has not yet been filed in the case.

“We just want them both to get their acts together and resolve this,” said Soto, who estimated that the workers, Lorenzo Alarcon and Byron Lopez, are together owed more than $10,000, including any imposed fines.

Lisa Derderian, spokesperson for the City of Pasadena, said Saturday, “City representatives met with NDLON representatives last week. The City is working with NDLON to increase outreach and enforcement activities. The city is also working to expedite the resolution of outstanding matters.”

Representatives of RAAM did not respond to a request for comment on the case, but owner Richard Lara said in 2017, “RAAM is deeply troubled by the allegations that it or its subcontractors engaged in wage theft or committed any other violation of California’s or Pasadena’s labor laws.”

Lara added, “RAAM is a company that my wife and I started. Lisa and I both come from backgrounds that clearly define who we are and how we strive to treat our employees.”

The wage theft demonstration was one of two Saturday. The other demonstration was against Chapala Bakery in Northwest Pasadena, which has been ordered by the City to pay $81,000 in fines and back wages to two workers. Those fines have also not yet been paid.

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a series of worker protection bills, including Assembly Bill 51, which bans forced arbitration, a business practice commonly used by employers to prevent workers from suing them for sexual harassment, discrimination or wage theft. Another new law extends the amount of time employees have to file civil rights complaints against their employers.

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