Having been harassed and eventually fired for organizing a union at her former newspaper, seeing hundreds of fellow workers finally prevail with a hefty jury judgment that may nearly double in the next few weeks has been hugely gratifying for former reporter Lynne Wang.
The 53-year-old single mother and 18-year employee of the Monterey Park-based Chinese Daily News still isn’t working in her field, a job at which she routinely toiled 12 hours a day, and much in her life remains uncertain. For one thing, she also still isn’t sure how much she will get from a $2.5 million award leveled against her former employers following a class-action suit filed by Wang on behalf of herself and other workers at one of America’s largest Chinese-language daily papers.
What she knows for sure, however, is victory in the end has made everything that Wang’s been through worth all the trouble.
“It was so hard, almost impossible,” the veteran news reporter said of her fight to keep a union that she helped to organize at the paper while fighting the company in a separate federal court case along with other named plaintiffs Yu Fang Ines Kai and Hui Jung Pao, both of whom worked in the paper’s sales department.
“Standing on your principles is not easy,” Wang observed.
One of the fiercest labor battles in the region in many years, but one that has remained largely off the mainstream media’s radar, Wang’s fight ultimately boiled down to a dispute over years worth of wages for her and some 200 workers who said they were denied overtime pay and rest and lunch breaks.
On Jan. 10, the case finally concluded after a jury found the Chinese Daily News responsible for three years worth of lost overtime and break time pay. The $2.5 million awarded to the workers could increase by as much as $2 to $3 million in the next few weeks, said Pasadena plaintiffs’ attorney Randall Renick.
Still to be determined by US District Judge Consuelo Marshall is compensation for lost overtime pay during a fourth year, lost time for breaks during that period, and attorney fees, Renick told the Weekly. There could also be penalties levied against the paper for failing to provide the court with accurate wage statements about the workers, Renick said.
In March 2001, Chinese Daily News workers voted 78-63 to join the Newspaper Guild, a division of the Communications Workers of America. That election, however, was set aside in 2005 after a divided National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., found the election was tainted by the actions of a supervisor; a ruling that overrode a recommendation by the NLRB’s West Coast office to certify the union vote.
A second vote was called for September 2005, but by then, many of the organizers had left the paper or had been fired. Three weeks before that failed vote — and six days after her deposition in the federal lawsuit — Wang also was fired.
As Wang once explained, the company becomes almost like a family for recent immigrants, which may explain why “The implicit defense on the part of the Chinese Daily News was ‘We give employees benefits [such as medical and dental plans], so we should get a pass,’” according to Renick.
“I think the bigger picture here,” Renick said, “is wage and hour laws in California apply to all employers.”
More than that, “This verdict should send a message to our ethnic communities that no employer is above the law,” fellow plaintiffs’ attorney Cornelia Dai, who is Chinese-American, said in a prepared statement on the judgment, “and all employees are entitled to the protection of our wage and hour laws.” Dai is with the Old Pasadena firm Hadsell & Stormer.
One of the few newspapers of any note that actually has another name, the Chinese Daily News, also known as the World Journal, is produced in Monterey Park and has a readership in Paris, London, Los Angeles and Taiwan, and other offices in New York and San Francisco.
Along with reporters, advertising staff, press room employees and other hourly workers — many of them first-generation immigrants from China, Taiwan and Vietnam — alleged that they worked 12 hours a day, six days a week.
In the final breakdown of the current judgment, reporters were awarded $734,519 for state overtime claims and $121,938 for missed breaks, according to court documents and a report on the judgment by the Bureau of National Affairs news service. Sales people were awarded $677,546. Clerical staff, truck drivers, press operators and others were awarded $16,861 for state overtime claims and $243,098 for missed breaks. Other workers received $620,806 for missed breaks. An additional $105,348 was awarded to all workers for damages under a vacation buy-back policy.
How all that will be divvied up has yet to be determined, Renick said. “Class representatives are entitled to the same share as all other class member reporters. On some occasions the court awards a nominal incentive award to the named plaintiff for their participation. We have not yet worked out a plan of allocation, but the plan will be consistent with actual damages suffered,” Renick wrote in a subsequent email.
Whether the employer was aware he or she was failing to meet state and federal wage and hour standards, “the employer has to enforce the rules,” Renick said. “The Chinese Daily News tried to take advantage [of its workers] and the jury found that was not acceptable.”
Mark T. Palin, a Cerritos-based attorney representing the Chinese Daily News, did not return calls for comment.
“The reason we wanted to file the class-action lawsuit is because it had nothing to do with the union. Even if we didn’t have the union, we would have still had the lawsuit,” Wang explained. “I was terminated from my job and I still fought for the principle. I wanted to help the company treat the workers right.”
Wang also said she is hoping to get back into journalism, but only “if they only work eight hours a day.”