New York Times

I.B.M. Accused of Denying Overtime Pay to Workers
By Lisa Alcalay Klug

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 24 – A lawsuit was filed in federal court Tuesday accusing I.B.M. of denying overtime pay to tens of thousands of workers.
The suit, which seeks class-action status nationwide, contends that the company violated federal and state labor laws in California and New York by misclassifying full-time computer installation and maintenance workers as exempt from overtime.
“We believe that those tens of thousands of workers have worked tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of unpaid overtime hours,” James M. Finberg, a lawyer at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, said at a news conference in San Francisco, where the suit was filed.

Employees working more than 40 hours a week are generally entitled to overtime pay under federal law, unless they fall under specific legal exemptions. The plaintiffs in this suit do not “fall into the very narrow exceptions to the overtime laws,” Mr. Finberg said.

The suit names as plaintiffs two current I.B.M. employees in California, Thomas Rosenburg and John Shelly, and one former employee in New York, Exaldo Topacio, who worked for I.B.M. for a year beginning in March 2003. I.B.M. is based in Armonk, N.Y.

“There were many occasions when I was required to work in excess of 40 hours per week,” said Mr. Topacio, a former technical support worker in I.B.M.’s New York network support division, responsible for installing and maintaining computer software and hardware.

Mr. Topacio, who worked for another computer company before I.B.M., also said that such violations were commonplace in the industry, where workers typically earn $40,000 to $60,000 annually.

Mr. Topacio said that I.B.M. informed him and his colleagues that under the law, they were exempt from overtime pay.

In a phone interview, John Bukovinsky, an I.B.M. spokesman, said: “The company does not comment on pending or on ongoing litigation. We’re reviewing the documents.”
The suit seeks compensation for unpaid overtime nationally and, in California, it also seeks an injunction against I.B.M. to stop what the plaintiffs call unfair labor practices regarding unpaid overtime.

The plaintiffs are also likely to seek additional damages equal to double the compensatory overtime, arguing that I.B.M. should have investigated and followed federal overtime laws but did not, Mr. Finberg said.

In This Paper War, an Owner Faces an Exodus of Journalists
By Lisa Alcalay Klug
New York Times

Local newspaper ownership has earned praise lately, but perhaps not in the offices of The Santa Barbara News-Press in California. Last week, six top editors and a veteran columnist resigned from the paper, claiming the owner and her management had repeatedly undermined news coverage.

The journalists included the editor, Jerry Roberts; managing editor, George Foulsham; deputy managing editor, Donald Murphy; metro editor, Jane Hulse; business editor, Michael Todd; sports editor, Gerry Spratt; and Barney Brantingham, a longtime columnist who had been working at the daily since 1960 when he began as a copy editor.

The News-Press, which was founded in 1855 and now has a circulation of around 41,000, is owned by Wendy P. McCaw, a philanthropist and the ex-wife of Craig McCaw, the cellphone magnate. (Ms. McCaw’s holding company, Ampersand Holdings, bought the paper from The New York Times Company in 2000.)

Ms. McCaw and the new acting publisher, Travis K. Armstrong, did not return calls seeking comment. Sam Singer, a spokesman for Ms. McCaw, said the resignations came as a result of the owner’s plan to increase local news coverage.

Mr. Roberts disputed that explanation. Employees quit, he said, “largely because of ethical concerns” over the policies of Ms. McCaw; the co-publisher, Arthur von Wiesenberger (who is also Ms. McCaw’s fiancé); and Mr. Armstrong, who is also the editorial page editor.

“These are primary ethical issues of the blurring of the line between opinion and fact, editorial page and news page,” Mr. Roberts said. “More than 100 papers ran a story about the resignations on Friday, but The News-Press was not among them. It ran a column by Travis Armstrong spinning it. To me, that proves the case that they’re mixing up apples and oranges and that the paper is not doing a great service to readers who expect to find news on the front page instead of opinion.”

When asked if the dispute hinged on former staff members’ concerns for journalistic standards, Mr. Singer said, “That’s nonsense.”

Although the resignations appeared sudden, Mr. Roberts said tensions had grown since the April departure of the former publisher, Joseph Cole. Mr. Roberts described Mr. Cole as a buffer between the owner and the newsroom. Journalists complained about prohibitions against printing the term “Ms.” or any address without management approval and the scrapping of a follow-up article about a drunken driving arrest of Mr. Armstrong.

Mr. Singer denied allegations of management missteps. He said, “Mrs. McCaw purchased The News-Press in order to give an independent voice to the people of Santa Barbara that is not cookie-cutter journalism.”

Jury Rules Wal-Mart Must Pay $172 Million Over Meal Breaks
By Lisa Alcalay Klug 
New York Times

BERKELEY, Calif., Dec. 22 – A California jury on Thursday ordered Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, to pay $172 million in damages for failing to provide meal breaks to nearly 116,000 hourly workers as required under state law.
The verdict came after a trial that lasted more than three months in a class-action suit filed at Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland.

The suit, filed on behalf of employees of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in California, argued that the chain violated state law more than eight million times from Jan. 1, 2001, to May 6, 2005, said the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Jessica Grant of the Furth Firm of San Francisco.

California law requires that employers provide a meal break of 30 minutes for every five hours on the clock, Ms. Grant said. If the break is shorter than that, provided late or not at all, the employer must pay an hour’s pay, she said.

“What happened here is that Wal-Mart didn’t make a single payment for 2001 and 2002 and only started paying in 2003 after we asked for permission to go forward as a class action,” Ms. Grant said.

Responding to the verdict, Wal-Mart issued a statement saying that it planned to appeal, that the decision was unique to California and that it had no bearing on any other state.

Wal-Mart is facing similar cases in about 40 other states, Ms. Grant said.
The jury ordered the company to pay $57 million in general damages and $115 million in punitive damages.

“It sends a very strong message to Wal-Mart that it is not acceptable to work employees 7, 8, 9, 10 hours a day without meal breaks,” Ms. Grant said.
A work law expert, Gillian Lester, a visiting professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, said: “This in an important verdict. I agree with the plaintiff’s attorneys that this is going to be an influential decision.”

In its statement, Wal-Mart said it had “acknowledged it had compliance issues when the statute became effective in 2001.”

“Wal-Mart has since taken steps to ensure all associates receive their meal periods, including adopting new technology that sends alerts to cashiers when it is time for their meal breaks,” the statement read. “The system will automatically shut down registers if the cashier does not respond.”

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