Suit accuses laundry firm of paying below minimum

Struggling to keep her tears under control, Cleotilde Tiacopilco described a day on the job at Olympic Linen & Laundry Service in Lansdowne:

Start at 8 a.m., clean 5,000 napkins, put them in a machine, then count and pack them. Finish by 6 p.m., then spend the next hour or so cleaning the office and the bathroom.

Her pay over 12 years? No overtime and $5 an hour until November 2013, when she got a raise to $6.50, she said at a news conference held in City Hall on Thursday to announce the filing of a wage-and-hour lawsuit against the company.

"My boss would short me $20 or $15 regularly. If I asked for my pay to be corrected, he would scream at me," Tiacopilco, of Philadelphia, said, speaking in Spanish through a translator, who read her statement in English.

Twelve years ago, the federal hourly minimum wage was $5.15. It is now $7.25 an hour.

Filed in Common Pleas Court in Delaware County on Wednesday, the potential class-action suit accuses the company of failing to pay minimum wage, docking workers for their breaks even when they didn't take breaks, and not paying overtime.

"The claims are baseless. It's a shame when a mom-and-pop business has to defend against allegations by two individuals who weren't even employed by our client," said lawyer Lori Armstrong Halber, partner at Fisher & Phillips L.L.P. of Radnor, representing Olympic.

The other company defendant in the case is Onsite Staff Management Inc., a staffing agency doing business as Centrix Staffing. No one answered the phone at the main office in Philadelphia, and no one was available at Centrix's Upper Darby office.

The suit says both companies are responsible for the alleged pay violations.

After the news conference, the workers visited the Hyatt at the Bellevue hotel in Center City, which uses Olympic's services. A manager told the group she would pass along its concerns.

Tiacopilco, who now works for another laundry, isn't one of the two named plaintiffs in the suit, but she and an estimated 200 to 300 current and former employees stand to benefit if the suit is successful.

The suit was announced in conjunction with the launching of Clean Philly, a campaign organized by Philadelphia Joint Board/Workers United to "end worker abuse and wage theft" in industrial laundries, said Lynne Fox, who leads the union.

Fox said the union represents about 70 percent of the area's industrial laundry workers, but Olympic Linen, also known as Central Laundry Inc., is one of the largest serving hotels and restaurants.

Also speaking at the conference was plaintiff Keith Garvin of Philadelphia, who said he left his job after two months when he wasn't paid properly. Knolly Arnold, also of Philadelphia, is the other named plaintiff.


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

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@JaneVonBergen

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