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Reyes v. S.J. Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 22, 2014

ILMA REYES, PATRICIA MARTINEZ, RAMON BREA, and BORYS PEREZ, Plaintiffs,
v.
S.J. SERVICES, INC., SHAWN SHEA and DAVID SHEA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DOUGLAS P. WOODLOCK, District Judge.

The plaintiffs in this putative class action are individuals employed as cleaners by SJ Services, Inc. Believing that they have not been properly compensated by their employer for the time that they worked, they have brought claims against SJ and its officers, Shawn and David Shea, under the Massachusetts Wage Act. They have moved for summary judgment on their claims and the defendants have filed a cross motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiffs' primary dispute concerns wages owed to unionized employees. A sub-set of non-unionized plaintiffs have brought claims that they too were underpaid for hours worked and also that they were promised, but not provided, health benefits.

Before undertaking to address the merits of this dispute directly, I must first determine whether any of the claims are preempted by the federal Labor Management Relations Act; to the degree preemption applies to any claims, these claims must be dismissed in the circumstances of this case. And, if preemption is not applicable to some portion of plaintiffs' claims, I must determine whether any remaining state law claims should be remanded to State Court.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A detailed discussion of the underling facts is necessary to frame the issues before me.

The plaintiffs are employed by SJ as cleaners of buses, bus shelters, and train platforms for the MBTA. Vilma Reyes, Patricia Martinez, and Borys Perez have been employed by SJ since November 2011. Ramon Brea was employed from December 2009 through his termination in July 2012. He was rehired shortly thereafter and continues to be employed by SJ.

Ms. Reyes and Ms. Martinez have been and continue to be members of a union. Mr. Brea was a member of a union until November 2011, at which time he assumed a non-union position. Mr. Perez was a member of a union until he assumed a non-union position in August 2012.

A. Contentions Regarding Hours Worked and Paid

The amount that each plaintiff was paid each week is recorded in a payroll register maintained for SJ by a payroll services firm. That register provides the names of SJ employees as well as their employee identification numbers, and indicates the hourly rate, the number of hours, and their total earnings (calculated by multiplying the rate times the hours) as well as deductions for items such as federal and state income taxes, Medicare, Social Security, and union fees. According to the testimony of David Shea each dated entry refers to the information for the prior week. In certain instances, more than one rate is listed on a single payroll entry; for instance, the payroll entry dated January 11, 2013 indicates that Ms. Reyes received pay of $15.95 per hour for six hours of work, and $16.15 per hour for twelve hours of regular work, six hours of holiday and six hours of sick leave.

The payroll entries do not indicate how either the rate or the number of hours for the employees were determined. Mr. Shea, in particular, testified that he did not know how the rates in the payroll sheets were determined, but said that the hourly rate indicated on the payroll entries was the rate to which the plaintiffs were entitled and which they were actually paid. The plaintiffs themselves did not know how their pay rate was determined or when and why their pay rate changed.

The plaintiffs were assigned work schedules, which varied over the course of their employment. In addition to their scheduled shifts, the plaintiffs appear to have worked and been compensated for occasional additional work on special projects, which are reflected in the payroll reports.

Ms. Reyes and Ms. Martinez testified in their depositions that, in addition to their scheduled shifts-reflected in the payroll reports-they began working five to ten minutes before each scheduled shift and continued to work for fifteen to thirty minutes after each shift. Ms. Reyes testified that, when this time is taken into account, her total weekly working hours were 31.5 hours, even though she was scheduled and paid for thirty hours. Mr. Brea testified that, at different times during his employment, he worked for an additional five to forty-five minutes past his scheduled shifts and for ten minutes before his scheduled shifts began. Mr. Perez testified that, during the time he was working a five day per week schedule, he worked an additional ten to fifteen minutes before the scheduled start of his shifts and up to ten minutes after the end of his scheduled shift.

In addition to their own testimony, the plaintiffs rely on testimony from their supervisors at SJ suggesting that the plaintiffs could not have performed their assigned tasks within the time limits of their scheduled shifts and therefore must have worked more than their scheduled-and compensated-time. They also point to this testimony as demonstrating that their supervisors at SJ knew that they were working beyond their scheduled shifts because the amount of work could not be completed in the scheduled time. For example, Ms. Reyes testified that she was expected to clean six buses per shift when she was working at the Albany Street garage and her supervisor estimated that it required between one-and-a-half and two hours to clean a bus. The mathematical inference is that six buses could not be cleaned without working more than six hours, indeed the arithmetic suggests that between nine and twelve hours would be necessary to perform the tasks. Similarly, Alfredo Pena, another SJ employee and supervisor, testified that he and Mr. Brea were expected to clean between thirty-six and thirty-nine train platforms and that each platform required fifteen to twenty minutes to clean. Again, the arithmetic suggests that the tasks assigned for a six hour shift would take between nine and thirteen hours to accomplish.

The defendants counter this evidence in several ways. They point to testimony indicating that cleaners, such as the plaintiffs, are not permitted to work outside of their scheduled shifts. Cleaners know how to contact supervisors, are in regular contact with their supervisors, and are required to report any deviation from their scheduled shifts to those supervisors. Supervisors, in turn, are required to record any departure from a scheduled shift and to make adjustments to spreadsheets recording actual hours worked. Mr. Pena was unable to point to a single instance of an employee complaining that the employee's paycheck did not reflect the actual hours worked. In addition, upon realizing that their estimates produced such large figures for the total time required to complete the work assigned on a single shift, Mr. Pena and Mr. Sanz recanted or modified their estimates of the amount of time required to perform cleaning tasks either during their deposition or in errata sheets submitted after the deposition was completed. Defendants also contend that the estimated numbers cannot be correct because no direct evidence suggests that any worker worked several hours beyond the worker's shift.

Defendants also point to facts that they believe indicate that plaintiffs were, at times, overcompensated for the hours they actually worked. First, they claim that employees were compensated for their entire shift despite the fact that all scheduled shifts included a half-hour meal break during which employees were not expected to work. The plaintiffs testified, however, that they often worked through the meal break. Ms. Reyes, Ms. Martinez, and Mr. Perez testified that they usually only took two breaks per week. Mr. Brea testified that he took two or three lunch breaks per week during the times that he worked on the B, C, and E line, but took breaks almost daily when working at the Southhampton garage.

Second, in addition to highlighting conflicting testimonial evidence regarding the amount of hours actually worked by the plaintiffs, defendants point to data from biometric hand-scanners that were installed at the MBTA stations where plaintiffs work. These scanners recorded the time when employees entered and left MBTA facilities. While the plaintiffs appear not to dispute that these machines were accurate when operable, they testified that they were frequently malfunctioning. These scanners also were not available throughout the plaintiffs' tenure with SJ and were not available at all the locations at which they worked. In addition, as defendants admit, the data recorded is often facially implausible, indicating, for example, that an individual was only checked in for a minute, or conversely stayed checked in for multiple days. Despite the defects in the data, the defendants have provided tables summarizing and analyzing the hand-scanner data.[1]

This tabular analysis (limited to those weeks in which defendants believe that they have valid data) indicates that in some weeks the amount of time that the plaintiffs were checked-in exceeded the number of hours for which they were paid. In other weeks, the converse is true. According to the defendants, when the overpayment weeks are set-off against the underpayment weeks, on net, Mr. Brea, Ms. Martinez, and Ms. Reyes were paid for more hours than they were checked in-that is, they were overpaid. When an additional deduction is made for two half-hour lunch breaks, Mr. Perez was also overpaid.

B. Health Insurance for Non-Union employees

SJ offers health insurance to all full-time non-union employees. According to Schedule A of the SJ Services, Inc. Health and Welfare Benefits Plan, employees become eligible to participate in the health plan on the first day of the month following 60 days of employment.

Two non-union employees, Mr. Perez and Mr. Brea, claim that they were not given health insurance benefits by SJ despite being eligible to receive them. Mr. Perez says that he asked his supervisor, Mr. Pena, about signing up for health insurance benefits once he became eligible by working over thirty hours a week during the summer of 2012. At that time, Mr. Pena told him that he would get medical benefits. Mr. Brea similarly discussed health insurance benefits with his supervisor, Mr. Sanz, in July 2010, once Mr. Brea became eligible due to his full-time schedule. At that time, according to Mr. Brea, Mr. Sanz told Mr. Brea that health insurance benefits would be made available to him.

Neither Mr. Brea nor Mr. Perez were given additional information about signing up for health insurance benefits until February 2013, when they received the Health Insurance Open Enrollment Package. Mr. Perez declined SJ's offer of benefits at that point because he had obtained insurance through MassHealth in January or March of 2013. Mr. Brea enrolled in SJ's health insurance program on February 24, 2013.

B. The Collective Bargaining Agreement

A collective bargaining agreement exists between Maintenance Contractors of New England, a coalition of employers of maintenance workers, and the Service Employees International Union Local 615. The CBA sets forth the pay schedule for workers. Under that agreement, an employee's pay rate is dependent upon a category reflecting the hours regularly scheduled for work per week, the location or nature of the work, and seniority.

The CBA also sets up a "Grievance Procedure" for disputes "concerning the interpretation, application or a claimed violation of a specific provision of this Agreement, " which "shall be the exclusive method for the presentation and settlement of grievances." Without setting forth the specific procedures mandated by the CBA, it is sufficient for present purposes to observe that those procedures require that a grievance first be pursued in a series of steps culminating in arbitration and that plaintiffs have not pursued their claims through the grievance processes set out in the CBA.[2]

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The first complaint in this matter was filed in state court on behalf of seven plaintiffs-Ms. Reyes, Ms. Martinez, Mr. Brea, and Mr. Perez, as well as Hector Diaz, Jose Luis Galdames, Hugo Laureano, and Elmer Pineda. The defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of preemption.

Defendants then moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting that the claims were preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 85(a) and under the Garmon preemption doctrine, San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236 (1959). In ...


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