California lawsuit alleges Walmart drivers were paid less than minimum wage

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 10/21/2014

A lawsuit brought against Walmart by truck drivers seeks millions of dollars in lost wages, alleging the company paid its drivers less than minimum wage under California law.

The suit, which was certified as a class action in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges Walmart violated various provisions of the California Labor Code by failing to pay drivers for mandatory activities including pre- and post-trip inspections; rest breaks; fueling, washing or weighing tractors; completing mandatory paperwork; and wait time and layover periods.

According to depositions cited in Judge Susan Illston’s ruling on the class status, Walmart does not pay drivers separately for performing pre- and post-trip inspections, which the company classifies as part of the driver’s “trip pay.” Company policy also mandates that drivers are responsible for the cleanliness of the tractor and trailer, and must wash them once per week, or as often as needed.

Nicholas “Butch” Wagner, the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs, said class members could seek in excess of $100 million in lost wages.

“One of the reasons (the amount) is so high is we have a 10-year claim period, and there is interest at 10 percent of whatever is owed,” Wagner said in a phone interview with Land Line. “These are known as wage-theft cases, where the employer fails to pay wages that are owed to employees.”

The class includes more than 500 current and former drivers who were employed in California and who worked as private fleet drivers for Walmart any time between Oct. 10, 2004, and the date of trial.

A spokesman for Walmart said the company disputes the notion that its drivers are unfairly compensated, arguing that the company’s drivers are among the highest paid in the industry, with many earning as much as $80,000 to $100,000 per year.

“We disagree with Judge (Susan) Illston’s ruling to certify a class based on some of the plaintiff’s claims, and we plan to fully contest that Walmart drivers have not been paid at least a minimum wage,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in a phone interview with Land Line. “Walmart is a great place to work as demonstrated by the fact that our drivers’ average time with the company exceeds 12 years.”

Wagner said the legal questions for the lawsuit are unique to California because the state’s law requires a minimum wage for “all hours worked.”

“Basically, these Walmart drivers are paid by mileage, or what’s known in California as a piece-rate pay plan,” he said. “As in all states, there’s a minimum wage law, $8 per hour. Now, there’s no question if you add up what these Walmart drivers make, and all the hours they work, there’s no question it exceeds the minimum. It’s well over $8 per hour. But in California, you have to be paid for each task you perform. So if you’re paying a driver just for mileage, that’s fine. But if you have a driver doing other tasks, you have to pay them for that.”

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