2 sanitation workers sue metro Phoenix city for shortchanging wages | Phoenix New Times


Talking trash: 2 sanitation workers sue Avondale for shortchanging wages

The West Valley city faces two federal lawsuits accusing it of forcing employees to work overtime and not paying them for it.
Two workers in Avondale's sanitation department alleged in lawsuits that the city didn't pay them overtime for years.
Two workers in Avondale's sanitation department alleged in lawsuits that the city didn't pay them overtime for years. Serena O'Sullivan
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Two Avondale sanitation workers sued the city, claiming they were routinely required to work overtime and through their lunch breaks without being paid for it — for years.

Gabriel Abasta, 46, and Christopher Ventura, 28, filed their federal lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on Nov. 6. Both men claimed the city violated the Fair Labor Standards Act when it refused to pay the men for overtime and their lunch break they were required to work through. The FLSA is a federal law that dictates a minimum wage and time-and-a-half overtime pay when non-exempt employees work more than 40 hours a week.

When the men asked to be compensated for working through their lunch periods, the city "wrongfully refused to pay wages owed," the lawsuits said.

"Because of the Defendant's staffing issues, the Plaintiff was regularly required to work through his unpaid 30-minute lunch period," the lawsuits said.

Abasta worked overtime nearly every week from July 2017 to June 2023, according to his lawsuit. Ventura said he worked overtime nearly every week between August 2019 and October 2022. Both men, who at the time were equipment operators in the sanitation department, typically worked weekdays from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. as well as overtime and weekends.

The lawsuits alleged that the city's timekeeping system deducted their daily 30-minute lunch break from their hours — even when they worked through it. And despite being required to work overtime, the city paid the men a set hourly rate, instead of time-and-a-half for the overtime hours they logged.

"Plaintiff suffered harm, injury, and damages, including financial loss, as a result of Defendant's conduct," both lawsuits said. "By withholding rightfully owed overtime wages ... (Avondale) has injured (Ventura and Abasta) and caused financial loss, harm and damage."

The two men, who both still work for the city, are seeking compensation for the hours they worked, damages and attorneys' fees.

Eli Enger, who is a partner with Mesa law firm Udall Shumway, filed the suits for Abasta and Ventura. Enger and Abasta did not respond to requests for comment. Ventura could not be reached. An Avondale spokesperson declined to comment.

“We are unable to speak on the matter at this time," Pier Simeri, the city's marketing director, told New Times.
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