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State Says Long Beach Home Care Agencies Owe Nearly $2 Million For Wage Theft

A photo of three people picketing outside an office building. A woman with long hair holds a sign that says "Pay up $1M," followed by a masked man who is holding up a sign that says "Pay Up Now." He is followed by a woman in a masked woman holding a basket that says "Pilipino Workers Center."
Aquiliana Soriano Versoza of the Pilipino Workers Center leads a picket line outside the Long Beach offices of two home care agencies cited for wage theft.
(Josie Huang
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The state Labor Commissioner’s Office has ordered two Long Beach home care agencies to pay more than $1.8 million for wage theft violations affecting 66 caregivers, the majority of them Filipino.

Regulators found the affiliated companies Angel Connection Nursing Care and Angel Connection Nursing Services misclassified employees as independent contractors to avoid paying minimum wage, overtime, worker’s compensation insurance and payroll taxes.

For some caregivers who worked 24-hour shifts, the pay amounted to $6.25 an hour, according to advocates with the Pilipino Workers Center which helped bring the case to the state along with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Southern California.

“We wanted to really signal to the industry that there's going to be clear enforcement when wage violations are happening,” said Aquilina Soriano Versoza, executive director of the Workers Center. “Workers are becoming more empowered knowing their rights.”

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Owners Will Appeal

The owners of the two companies are appealing the citation, according to the state. The firms did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The commissioner’s office said it cannot comment on pending cases.

Home care worker Maria (not her real name — she used a pseudonym and did not provide her last name because she is still employed by Angel Connection) said she remains hopeful she will be able to receive wages she is owed for providing live-in care.

The 63-year-old said assisting elderly and ill clients is meaningful work but it is also physically and mentally demanding. Maria, a cancer survivor herself, said she has to regularly lift clients who are larger than her and her blood pressure spikes from sleepless nights.

“There's no such thing as a rest or meal break because even when I’m eating, my client would ask me, ‘I need to go to the restroom’ so I have to stop eating and go with her,”” she said. “Basically, you are there for the client 24 hours a day.”

The Scene On The Picket Line

Maria was among more than a dozen people who picketed outside a gleaming office building in Long Beach where the companies are located in an airy, light-filled space on the fourth floor.

“Angel Connection, pay your workers now!” the group shouted. “Angels don’t steal wages!”

The state identifies Annabelle Ricasata as both the owner of Angel Connection Nursing Care and a full-time employee of Angel Connection Nursing Services, the latter of which the state says is co-owned by Merjilyn Chu and Joseph Fortunato.

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One worker alone is owed about $200,000 for her work over three years’ time because she was treated as a contractor, according to Yvonne Medrano of the Bet Tzedek legal aid group.

As contractors, “they're not entitled to protections from discrimination,” Medrano said. “They're not protected against retaliation. So really, it's stripping them of all the protections that worker advocates have fought for so many years.”

Fear Of Retaliation

Medrano said many other caregivers are concerned about coming forward for fear of retaliation. Some are undocumented and are worried speaking out may jeopardize their ability to stay in the country. Advocates note that whistleblowers are protected by anti-retaliation laws and can seek protection from being deported.

This is the latest wage theft case to hit industries providing health care workers at home and in residential settings. Last year, the state ordered the owner of the Adat Shalom chain of board and care homes to pay nearly $8.4 million in lost wages and damages to 148 former employees.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.