Lawsuit: Transit Firm Failed to Give Proper Breaks

By Thomas Watkins | September 22, 2008

The company that employed the engineer blamed for the deadly Metrolink train collision faces a class-action lawsuit by two of its workers for allegedly not giving employees proper rest breaks, overtime and other benefits.

Veolia Transportation Inc. has been under scrutiny since its engineer crashed his Metrolink commuter train into a freight on Sept. 12, killing 25 people. Federal investigators are reviewing whether fatigue played a role in the collision, since the engineer was in the midst of a 101/2-hour split shift and ran a red light that could have prevented the crash.

Two Veolia bus drivers filed lawsuits in May and June against the French firm, but the cases have been consolidated into a class-action lawsuit involving all the company’s California employees, Brian Kabateck, a lead attorney in the case, said.

“These drivers weren’t being given meal breaks, rest breaks, and often not being given the opportunity to take a bathroom break”‘ Kabateck said. “If they were hungry, they were told they could eat their lunch on their lap while driving.”

The lawsuit, first reported by The Daily Journal of Los Angeles, also alleges drivers were not paid overtime after working eight hours and did not pay all wages when an employee’s position was terminated.

The lawsuit seeks back wages, statutory penalties and changes in Veolia’s working practices, Kabateck said.

Veolia, which contracts workers to Metrolink, provides bus, rail, taxi and other transport services throughout North America.

Alan Moldawer, Veolia’s executive vice president, said the allegations are untrue and that his company has not broken any state laws governing the working conditions of transportation workers.

“These lawyers apparently did not investigate their facts before they filed this case,” Moldawer said.

Moldawer also contested the view train engineers could be included in the case, as they are governed by a different set of regulations than bus drivers.

Investigators probing the cause of the train collision have looked at the work schedule of engineer Robert Sanchez, a Veolia subcontractor who was killed in the crash.

Sanchez routinely worked lengthy split shifts Monday through Friday. On the day of the crash, he began his shift at about 6 a.m., took a nap during a 41/2-hour break and resumed duty at 2 p.m., about 21/2 hours before the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board has said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has questioned Sanchez’s working conditions, calling his shift “untenable.”

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