For seven years, from 2008 through earlier this year, more than 450 trash and recycling haulers working for Republic Services and its Allied Waste unit lost millions of dollars to the company, they complained.
The reason: Hundreds were badly overcharged for their company health insurance, and some were even charged for health insurance they had opted out of signing up for.
“It was like going into a bar and the bartender saying, ‘Do you want a beer?’ You say, ‘No,’ and they say: ‘That'll be five dollars,’ ‘’ said Jonathon Friedmann, an attorney with Rudolph Friedmann LLP in Boston who, along with partner Adam Shaffran, just won a major victory for those drivers: a $6.5 million dollar class-action settlement just given initial approval by Judge Janet Sanders in Suffolk Superior Court’s business division.
The settlement involves drivers based at Republic operations centers in Revere, Tyngsborough, Fall River, and Plymouth. It promises many $50,000 to over $100,000 and in one case $180,000 in compensation and damages.
How big a deal is the $6.5 million? It is more than the state Attorney General’s office has won, in the entire state, in any of the past three years in restitution and punishment in wage-violation prosecutions, according to annual reports filed by the AG’s office. (The AG’s Fair Labor Division reported restitution and penalties of $3.31 million in 2013-14; $6.12 million in 2012-13; and $4.03 million in 2011-12.)
Shafran said the case should send a major warning to employers across the state about the importance of properly calculating their employees’ health-insurance deductions. “This is applicable to every business that does construction-type work, traffic and collection type work, throughout the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts,’’ Shafran said.
Republic, which took over Allied Waste in 2008, did not respond to a request from NECN for comment before this story was broadcast.
Robert Swiderski, a driver from Hooksett, N.H., was the lead plaintiff in the case. He wasn't available to go on camera Monday afternoon but said by e-mail: “This is a life-changer for me and my coworkers. I'm glad I was able to help so many people. My attorneys fought hard for me and for all of us."
After final details of the settlement are approved in court, Republic/Allied workers are expected to get their payments by September, an aide to Friedmann and Shafran said.
In an e-mailed statement after this story was taped and broadcast, Republic said: "We have reached an agreement concerning the way deductions for health and welfare benefits were calculated for a small number of our employees in Massachusetts. We remain committed to complying with the prevailing wage laws, including the calculation of health and welfare benefit deductions. Because the law governing wage calculations is vague, particularly with respect to benefits calculations, we performed the calculations according to our best understanding of the law and the available agency guidance. We are happy to make this right with our valued employees and to put this matter behind all of us."