By Don McIntosh
In the next 90 days, checks will be mailed out to 176 current and former workers at an industrial bakery in Gresham.
Portland Specialty Baking (PSB) is paying $580,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit over systematically shorting overtime pay. The company didn’t admit to wrongdoing, but did agree to pay up to $90,000 in attorney fees, and $30,000 to a settlement administrator, and $460,000 to the workers. Checks will go out to 176 workers who responded to the lawsuit settlement notice, out of 581 who worked there August 2014 to July 2017 and were contacted by the court. Checks will range from $100 to $4,800, and most will be about $750.
The settlement also commits the company to let workers leave the production line to take bathroom breaks, and to translate information on their paid sick time rights into their native languages. PSB’s workforce consists overwhelmingly of immigrants and refugees and they speak at least a dozen languages. They make pretzels, cakes, donuts, bagels, and muffins for Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Walmart, Costco and Winco.
Working conditions and wages near the legal minimum have contributed to high turn-over at Portland Specialty baking; it took at least six months to locate former workers so they could be paid what they were owed.
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Dailey approved the settlement in a drama-free online hearing May 17, saying it was the longest case she’d had, where nothing would happen for long periods of time. The basic terms were agreed to by January 2020, but settlement was delayed when a court-appointed administrator died.
Workers found out about the violation at the beginning of 2016, during a union campaign by Bakers Local 114. An Oregon law requires manufacturers to pay time and a half after employees work over 10 hours in any 24 hour period. PSB was treating shifts as separate days even when they overlapped a 24-hour period.
“The Bakers union made this lawsuit happen,” said Northwest Workers Justice Project director Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, the lead attorney for plaintiffs on the case. Spencer-Scheurich said the lawsuit was only possible because of the union’s detailed understanding of the workplace.
The union campaign itself ended in defeat. The company brought in a professional union buster, and scheduled almost daily anti-union meetings in the workplace, as well as one-on-one meetings with managers. Workers rejected the union 123-to-38, just three weeks after a 60% majority of the workers had signaled support for the union by signing authorization cards.
But the campaign had an afterlife in the form of a lawsuit filed August 2016 on workers’ behalf by attorneys for the non-profit Northwest Workers Justice Project.
Now workers are getting a little long-delayed justice.