Attorney: Landmark Case May Entitle Diamond Bar, Walnut Mechanics to More Pay

A state appeals court has upheld a decision that workers' pay cannot be averaged over their pay period; rather, employers must now pay for any down time.

A recent decision in the California court system may mean big bucks for local auto mechanics, and those who get paid on a "piece rate" basis, an attorney tells Patch.

The unpublished case of Gonzalez v. downtown LA Motors, LP. came out of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal on March 6.  In the case, the court held that employees who get paid for each piece of work they do, versus on an hourly basis, must be now be separately paid when "waiting" for work or doing other things that prevent them from earning those piece rate wages.

The class-action suit involved more than 100 automotive service technicians who worked for Downtown LA Motors Mercedes Benz.  In the suit, they alleged they were owed more than a million dollars collectively in lost wages and penalties for doing things that didn't have to do with a specific repair.

"No longer can employers shift the burden of difficult times such as downtime or waiting time on the employees' backs without paying at least minimum wage," Attorney Brian Mankin, who handles many auto mechanic lawsuits for the firm Fernandez & Lauby, explained to Patch.  

"In the past when a shop runs out of vehicles to service, mechanics have been forced to wait for work, clean the shop and do other things for free."

Mankin explained that many car dealerships and auto repair shops pay their employees based on specific projects they are asked complete— not on the actual amount of time it takes. 

Many times, a worker will work on a project, get paid for that "piece," and then spend several hours doing nothing.  Now, Mankin says, workers in these sorts of situations are supposed to get paid at least California's minimum wage of $8 for each hour they are not physically working on these projects, but still "on-duty."

Until now, many companies would average the amount that workers got paid on a piece-rate basis over the hours in their pay period, and only pay them more if that number fell below minimum, according to the attorney.

Mankin also said that it remains to be seen if this case will be applicable to workers in other fields who get paid in a similar manner, like truck drivers who get paid on a per-mile basis, and furniture makers who get paid for the items they build.

"It sets a precedent and it sends a very, very strong signal," Mankin said.

Since this case is "unpublished," it can't yet be relied upon for case law, however, Mankin says that could change soon.  

It also remains to be seen if the employer will appeal to the CA Supreme Court, he said.

The ramifications of this lawsuit only affect those workers in California.

"California often exceeds the minimum protections set by federal law," Mankin said.  "California has traditionally done more for the wages and welfare of employees than federal law or other states might."

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