Temp Workers Say Verizon Underpaid Them

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) — A federal class action claims Verizon dodged paying overtime to workers who filled in during a recent high-profile union strike by misclassifying them as independent contractors.
     The class-action lawsuit filed Thursday in Eastern Pennsylvania Federal Court alleges Verizon used a “fissured employment” scheme to shed its responsibility of paying workers the time-and-a-half overtime rate required under federal law, even though the temporary workers routinely clocked as many as 91 hours a week.
     Through this system, Verizon allegedly classified employees who filled in during the union strike as independent contractors of three subordinate companies – Tesinc, Evans Splicing and PS Splicing – even though it still made the workers follow Verizon’s “exacting” procedures.
     This let Verizon dodge the increased cost of employees working more than 40 hours per week while distancing itself from legal responsibility, according to the complaint.
     However, the named plaintiffs, led by Robert Donoghue, say this method should not get around established federal law, arguing “it is the economic reality of the relationship – not Verizon’s self-serving labels – that controls whether plaintiffs met the definition of an ’employee’ under the [Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA] and comparable state and wage hour laws.”
     On April 13, roughly 36,000 Verizon workers began a strike that stretched through states on the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Virginia.
     The strike would not end for nearly seven weeks, leading Verizon to hire replacement wireline workers to help keep service to customers of the country’s largest wireless carrier, Thursday’s class action states.
     Pointing to a Verizon press release, the class says Verizon had actually been preparing for the strike ahead of time, training non-union workers in its repair procedures before it began.
     During the strike, the named plaintiffs and members of the class they represent worked as replacement wireline workers who were tasked with maintaining and repairing the copper and fiber cables Verizon uses to deliver television, phone and Internet services to its customers, according to the complaint.
     While the telecom giant classified the temporary workers as independent contractors, the named plaintiffs say they underwent similar procedures as traditional employees.
     “For example, defendants ran through background checks on plaintiffs and the class members, made them complete I-9 employee eligibility verification forms, required them to participate in mandatory ‘on-boarding’ programs and safety meetings, withheld money from their paychecks for workers’ compensation and took other deductions from their pay,” the workers claim in the complaint.
     Verizon acted as a joint employer of the temporary workers along with Tesinc, Evans and PS Splicing, and together these companies failed to give the workers the overtime pay to which they were entitled, the class claims in the 28-page lawsuit.
     The plaintiffs seek unpaid overtime wages they say are owed to them, as well as compensatory and liquidated damages to be determined for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as Pennsylvania and New Jersey wage laws. They are represented by David Cohen of Stephan Zouras LLP in Philadelphia.
     Verizon declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

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