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Sulu Nergq. international Headquarters Come Visit us for LUNCH! In addition to our organic coffee, pizzas, empanadas, pastries and pies, we now prepare made to order sandwiches, salads, and even black bean gazpacho. 3601 S. Congress off E. Alpine Penn Field under the water tower check or site for riontilly calendar of this sow’s ear.” The ruling doesn’t destroy the case. There are several lesser charges against TAB, though it may be difficult to prosecute those without the central indictment. Earle’s office has declined to comment publicly on its next move. OUTSOURCING CLEANUP Twelve Texas janitors are suing retail giant Target Corp. and its cleaning firm, alleging janitors were illegally misclassified as independent contractors. As a result, they were not paid overtimeor even minimum wage. The suit contends that Target is as culpable as its cleaning contractor, Oklahoma-based Jim’s Maintenance Inc., whose CEO is also cited in the suit. In this age of outsourcing, large corporations don’t hire their own cleaning staffs. Target hired Jim’s. Jim’s hired the cleaners. The cleaners worked overnight, seven days a week, up to 70 hours a week, at 14 Target stores in Austin and San Antonio, thinking they were employed by Jim’s. What they didn’t know, according to their lawsuit, was that Jim’s had unilaterally decidedwith Target’s knowledgethat they weren’t employees, but independent contractors. The suit, filed June 29 in San Antonio by the Equal Justice Center, an Austinbased workers’ rights organization, claims that under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Target was as much the janitors’ employer as Jim’s, but failed to pay the janitors the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. Moreover, since the janitors were misclassified as independent contractors, they didn’t get the federally mandated time-and-a-half for overtime. Center attorney Bill Beardall says that this corporate dodge has become a common experience for many employees and common practice for many firms. “It began with disreputable, flyby-night contractors, but you now have some of the largest corporations in the country attempting to engage in the same illegal scam.” On June 13, a federal judge in Indiana denied a motion for summary judgment filed by FedEx Corp. in a case involving employee pension rights. FedEx had argued that drivers who wore company uniforms were independent contractors, and therefore not entitled to pensions. The judge refused to dismiss the case, finding that the drivers were not independent contractors, but employees. Similarly, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., had to pay $11 million in fines last year when a New Jersey district court found they were responsible as co-employers when their contract cleaners hired illegal migrant staff. Misclassification is not just a blue-collar issue: In December 2000, Microsoft Corp. was ordered to pay $97 million to employees it had misclassified as contractors. Neither Microsoft nor FedEx replied to enquiries from the Observer, while Wal-Mart representatives said that, as litigation in this case is still on-going, they could make no comment. In a June 30 statement, Target said that the janitors were not their employees, and the retail giant does not currently have a “relationship’ with Jim’s. According to Beardall, the idea that the janitors were not employees of Target is “absurd.” If the court agrees, Target could find itself liable not just for back pay, but also for benefits and unpaid payroll taxes. It’s just a matter of companies living up to their responsibilities, says Beardall, adding, “If these workers could be classified as independent contractors, there’s nobody who can’t.” JUSTICE AND TYC Fallout from alleged abuse in Texas juvenile prisons has begun. The U.S. Department of Justice will investigate allegations that the civil rights of juvenile inmates have been violated at a state-run youth prison in South Texas. A June 9 letter to Gov. Rick Perry’s office from the U.S. assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division said the department will examine conditions of confinement and treatment of inmates at the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg. The letter did not specify what had prompted the investigation. As the Observer reported last month [“Blind Spots,” June 16, 2006], the Evins facility has been the site of several riots and disturbances in recent years, and is the target of lawsuits by former employees and the families of detained youth. The executive director of the Texas Youth Commissionthe state agency that operates Texas’ juvenile prisonssays the agency welcomes the Justice Department’s investigation, and will cooperate fully. “We all want the same thingsafe facilities to rehabilitate young offenders,” says TYC chief Dwight Harris. “Now, it’s just a matter of them taking a look at how we operate and seeing if they can find anything that needs to change.” TYC did not return phone calls seeking further comment. Rates of abuse throughout TYC facili ties have been on the rise over the last decade. TYC’s own records show three detainees in a hundred experienced continued on page 20 JULY 14, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5