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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Boycott San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

I've decided to ask you readers to boycott (not to attend) the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's performances because of a legal decision that was made that owes me money for labor code violations, in which after a decision was made in mid-2005, has failed to pay me.

Here's the whole story:
I was hired to work for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival in the Summer of 2004 as a theatre carpenter. During the first few weeks, we were in the San Francisco main theatre shop to build the set into pieces, do a first assembly to assure that everything is right, and dismantle it for transport to our first site.

On June 21, 2004: Our crew transported the set, tools, and steel truss/deck to the construction site in Pleasanton. We completed construction on July 6th.

On July 26th, the crew returned to strike (break-down) the set and prepare for transport to Cupertino for our next set construction. The crew completed the strike and moved the items on July 28 in the afternoon.

On July 31, the set was completed, one day after the company expected us to complete it the day before, but was impossible to build the set in three days with terrain challenges (building over a mini lake that is 50 ft. wide with dirty water full of leaches) and limited construction tools, including only two jacks to raise the deck and only two waterproof protective gear to enter the water to build over the lake. We had over a WEEK to start building at the first location, do you really expect the crew of nine do be working from 7AM to 9PM and finish in three days?

Within a week after completion, my supervisor was fired, and I filed a 72 hour quitting notice on August 10. At that time, I claimed to the Executive Director that I was owed overtime pay because my timesheet noted on several occasions that I worked more than eight hours per day. During my final week of employment, I was working as much as 14.5 hours a day (that's a 7AM work check-in and returning to the office at 9:30PM) to complete construction at the Cupertino set.

Labor code stated that as an employee, I was to be paid 1.5 times pay for any work beyond 8 hours, and 2 times pay for work beyond 12 hours. A 14.5 hour day is: $96 (first 8 hours), $72 (1.5X pay 9th thru 12th hours), $60 (2X pay for 13th, 14th, and 1/2 of the 15th hour) for a total of: $228.

I received my final paycheck on August 16th and only received a check for straight pay, no overtime, or past overtime. I also received a compensation check for $3 for bridge toll because the company did not provide a Fastrak transponder to cross the bridge.

On August 31st, I received a letter from the Executive Director stating that they went to an attorney and said that they will not pay overtime because the use of the company vehicle to be transported to the construction site does not constitute being on "paid time." So in their calculations, they felt that I do not get overtime.

I already filed a complaint with the State of California's labor commissioner on August 23, 2004, accusing them of violations of the California Labor Code and demanding for overtime pay. I was scheduled a conference meeting where the plaintiff (myself), the defendant (the festival) and a deputy commissioner was to have a meeting to see if this can be settled without going to a hearing.

The first meeting was scheduled on September 16, 2005, in which the ex-employer was not present, therefore the meeting was referred to a hearing officer. At at that time I spoke to the deputy commissioner, and informed me that "transportation time" is considered "on the clock pay." Legally, once I check-in to the headquarters, I am on the clock; if the staff needs to be transported to a construction site, the transportation time is on the clock, and the return trip back to headquarters is considered on the clock.

On February 16, 2005 the hearing was canceled because the organization had an old address on file with the state and failed to update the address, therefore the post office returned the letter as unclaimed. After giving them the correct address, a new date was scheduled for May 24, 2005 and while I was present, the ex-employer was not, so I plead my case with the hearing officer.

I provided the hearing officer a copy of my pay stubs and time cards, proving that I was only paid "straight pay" for my work and it was clear that I was owed overtime pay. I even argued that although the defendant was not present, I provided the hearing officer a copy of the letter from their "attorney" showing their defense (the "transportation time") and proved that their defense was interpreted incorrectly as stated by the deputy commissioner.

On June 22, 2005, I received a copy of the hearing officer's findings and the officer decided that I was owed $330 in overtime, interest pursuant in Labor Code Section 98.1, and waiting time penalties pursuant to Labor Code Section 203 at a daily rate of $168.00. This decision was not made by the default (the defendant did not attend), I still had to prove the fact that I was owed money.

Shortly later, they filed a judgment with San Francisco's Superior Court of the State of California. Here's what they owe:
$330 in overtime
$25.67 in interest
$5,040.00 in additional wages as a penalty
$5.96 in post hearing interest
$156.30 for the filing fee
TOTAL: $5,557.93

This is public information, see the documentation here.

After that, I contacted the Shakespeare festival, demanding payment, and without success.

I waited until the appeal window was closed, and continuously asked for my payment. I eventually had to hire a lawyer and a claims person, but since they were doing it pro bono, I did not get any results from the ex-employer.

I even telephoned the Executive Director for a telephone meeting, and she promised me that she would call me back a few days later at a specific time to negotiate. She did not call, and when calling the organization, I was informed that "she was out of the office." Uh-huh...

I finally sent a notice to the Board of Directors, responsible for the Executive Director's position, and received no response.

For now, I'm letting this simmer, until one day...

The interest is adding up, at least $500 per year.

I'm considering contacting the organization's sponsors to ask them to stop giving donations because it is not appropriate to give money to an organization that refuses to pay their ex-employee fair overtime wages and they have an outstanding claim on their record.

I'm also considering to ask the San Francisco Grants for the Arts, which gave the theatre group $75,600 for the fiscal year 2006-2007 (public information, see here) to revoke their funding because they are using public hotel tax funds to give money to an organization that violates state labor codes.

I don't make a lot of money and my college fees is getting even more expensive ($3,000 per semester). All I want is what is rightfully mine, without the hassles.

I've been suggested to contact KPIX (CBS 5) and KGO (ABC 7) for some help, but it seems that their investigative teams are not currently interested in helping me.

Lastly, some may argue that it is my fault, that by doing my own payroll paperwork is my ultimate responsibility. Actually, the last person that looks at the payroll paperwork before submitting it to the payroll company is the Executive Director, therefore it is the responsibility of the Executive Director to pay attention to mistakes or errors.

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