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Salvation Army Faces Lawsuit Over Alleged Wages Due

— May 28, 2021

Rehabilitation program workers say they should be paid for the work performed.

A group of five former Salvation Army (SA) drug and alcohol rehab participants have filed a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against the organization alleging they were not paid for work performed at the facility.  The Salvation Army is one of the largest providers of drug and alcohol rehabilitation in the nation.  The main crux of treatment is “work therapy” at its thrift stores.  Some individuals join on their own account, while others are court-ordered.

The program provides room and board and spiritual counseling, Bible studies and recreational opportunities.  The website states that the SA program provides “housing, food, counseling, community, and employment as we work to treat the symptoms, and ultimately the root causes, of prolonged alcohol and drug dependence.”

Salvation Army Faces Lawsuit Over Alleged Wages Due
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The lawsuit contends the program violated California labor laws by not treating participants as employees and failing to pay them minimum wage and overtime.  According to the complaint, “the participants worked more than 40 hours a week in physically grueling and sometimes dangerous” situations.  It continues, “Some picked up donations and worked in warehouses and stores, where they sorted, priced and displayed clothing, linens, shoes, accessories and housewares.  Others performed maintenance jobs, repaired goods, or operated heavy machinery.  In exchange, they received gratuities of between $1 and $25 per week or ‘canteen cards’ they could use to buy soda, chips or other snacks at The Salvation Army canteen.”

Gay Crosthwait Grunfeld and Michael Freeman are among the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.  Grunfeld said, “We appreciate the good that the Salvation Army has done in the world and the homeless shelters.  And we support all efforts to help downtrodden people.  But you can do that while paying minimum wage.”

Most people do not complete the program, according to the complaint, because the SA “admits only applicants who can work and routinely kicks participants out of the program if they get sick or injured and are no longer able to work.”  The Salvation Army has argued that these participants are not considered employees and the charity is, therefore, not obligated to pay them.

Jessica Riggin, another attorney for the plaintiffs, explained the organization “is violating labor law by not treating the workers as employees.  Whether or not the program helps people is irrelevant.  There’s no nonprofit exemption to the labor code.  Even if they do good, that’s not a reason for them to not comply with the law like every other California employer.”

The federal Department of Labor previously found The Salvation Army in violation of labor law in 1990, but after it lobbied federal lawmakers, the agency dropped the matter.  The Department then added specific language to an internal handbook warding against future suits against the SA for wage violations.

The plaintiffs are seeking class certification and back wages for work performed. Their attorneys filed the case under the Private Attorneys General Act, a California law that allows private attorneys representing employees to file lawsuits on behalf of the state.


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