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Sunday, October 13, 2019

California court rules WinCo employees' bargaining agreement 'clear and unmistakable' regarding meal breaks


By Dani Hemmat | Aug 21, 2018

SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) ‒ California’s 4th District Court of Appeal, Division Two has upheld a judgment in a case involving WinCo Foods LLC and some of employees who claimed unfair break-time practices.

The original ruling was in favor of WinCo with the Riverside County Superior Court stating that the collective bargaining agreement waived the plaintiff employees' “statutory right to a meal break whenever they worked more than five but not more than six hours,” the Aug. 13 ruling stated.

The plaintiffs appealed on the grounds that the trial court erred as "the waiver in the collective bargaining agreement was not 'clear and unmistakable' as required by federal law," according to the ruling.

The appellate court determined that the waiver was without question clear and unmistakable and that the language in the agreement was specific in its mention of meal breaks. It was also determined that both sides were ordered to bear their own costs of appeal.

According to the background of the ruling, employees Kristina Ehret and Elmer Gillett were employees of WinCo Foods. They alleged were working under a collective bargaining agreement which “at least purported to provide that an employee who works a shift of not more than six hours is not entitled to a meal break,” the ruling states.

Gillett was the chair of the WinCo Foods No. 46 Hourly Employees Association, of which all hourly, non-management employees at WinCo Foods No. 46 in Moreno Valley were members. The Association was the employees’ sole bargaining representative. In March 2013, Gillett, acting on behalf of the Association, signed an agreement covering hourly employees’ working conditions and wages. This was agreed upon by the employees as a collective bargaining agreement.

The agreement states “Employees who work shifts of more than five hours will be provided a meal period of at least 30 minutes, except that when a work period of not more than six hours will complete a day’s work, a meal period is not required. For shifts that are ‘more than five hours’ up to seven hours, the meal period must begin on or after the second hour worked but before or on the fifth hour worked. If the shift is more than seven hours, the meal period must begin on or after the third, but before or on the fifth hour worked. It is WinCo Foods policy not to mutually agree with employees to waive their lunch period,” according to the ruling.

In 2014, Ehret and Gillett, on behalf of all similarly situated employees, filed an action against WinCo under the Private Attorney General Act, complaining that WinCo violated Labor Code section 512, subdivision (a) by requiring employees to work through mandatory meal breaks. 

Labor Code section 512 states that an employee who works more than five hours is entitled to a meal break, “except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee,” the ruling states.

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