Human-Trafficking-for-Labor-The-Problem-Next-Door.jpg (2149×1159)Human trafficking is a problem in other countries and not in the United States. Right? Wrong. In fact, you could not be more wrong. Human trafficking occurs right here in the US, in your state, in your city and perhaps even in your neighborhood. It is a problem of unbelievable proportion, occurring in industries ranging from farmworkers to escort services.

A new report published by Polaris, analyzed 32,000 cases of human trafficking between 2007 and 2016. This is the largest data set on human trafficking ever compiled and analyzed in the US. The team classified the cases into 25 different categories, finding that each had its own business model, profile, recruitment strategy and methods of control and each works in subversive ways to conceal the crime.  

Trafficking in the food industry

Three of the 25 categories identified lie in the food industry. This puts restaurants, bars, and agriculture in three of the areas of concern. Maria Godoy interviewed Janet Drake, a senior assistant attorney general in Colorado, for her article in The Salt. Drake notes that while only 16% of the identified cases involved labor trafficking, it is probably at least as prevalent as sex trafficking, if not more so.

The workers come from Vietnam, China, Mexico and Central America. They come with promises of good jobs and legal immigration, but once here they quickly find themselves in situations with pay on a piece rate basis. Employers charge fees for the privilege of being here. They live in cramped, overcrowded, dirty conditions. Without access to health care and safety supplies necessary to do their jobs, they work in dangerous situations. Threatened with deportation and not given appropriate sponsorship to become legal citizens, they live in fear each day.

Defining piece rate

Piece rate is a process of payment by results or work paid for according to the number of units turned out. An employee is paid for each unit of production at a fixed rate. In the food industry, it is easy to see examples of this. In agriculture, the farm workers who work in the fields are paid by the piece. In restaurants, the bussers, wait staff, and cooks are paid for production and not by an hourly rate. In a study conducted by the Food Chain Workers Alliance and Solidarity Research Cooperative, it was found that despite phenomenal growth in the industry, median wages remain the lowest of any industry. The study stresses that there are steps that both policy makers and consumers can take to improve job conditions.

As a consumer, you can help by supporting the efforts to improve working conditions by attending rallies, speaking to employers and supporting legislation. You can buy products that are certified by fair-trade or union organization as being made by companies with fair-labor standards. You can educate others and you can make calls to your legislators.

Legislation that helps

California is already taking steps to make positive changes that will impact food workers and other piece rate workers impacted by human trafficking. On January 1, 2016, AB 1513 added section 226.2 to the California Labor Code which applies “for employees who are compensated on a piece-rate basis for any work performed during a pay period.” This labor code has two primary functions:

The statute clearly defines the compensation requirements and how to determine the rate which is based on the higher of the average hourly rate calculated by the total compensation for the workweek, divided by the total hours worked, minus the rest and recovery periods; or the applicable minimum wage. Rest periods are defined as a 10-minute period for every four hours worked and if the employer fails to provide this rest period, the employee is paid for one full hour of work at the calculated rate. Other “non-productive” time that is separate from piece-work and not paid at an hourly rate, also has pay requirements assigned.

As an employer, the affirmative defense portion addressed the requirement for employers to compensate employees for unpaid rest and recovery periods for a time period of July 1, 2012 to December 31, 2015. The deadline for submitting notice to the Department of Industrial Relations ended on July 28, 2016. Payments to current and former employees as a result of this legislation were not tracked or monitored and any disputes filed by employees will be heard by a judge or arbitrator. Employees who believe they should have been compensated but did not receive payment can submit a claim through the Unpaid Wage Fund.

As with any employment law, figuring the details can be complicated. At Aiman-Smith & Marcy, we specialize in employment law in California and helping to eradicate unethical practices. If you feel you or someone you know has been affected by human trafficking or unfairly paid based on the requirements of AB 1513, contact us for a consultation.

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Lisseth Bayona


Education and Background

I am a Los Angeles native and daughter of Salvadorian immigrants. From an early age, my parents instilled the value of hard work and education in me and my two siblings. Their perseverance enabled each of us to graduate from college and earn professional degrees.

My interest and commitment to workers’ rights have roots in my parents’ experiences as undocumented workers in Los Angeles. Witnessing the challenges they faced inspired me to pursue a career where I can help individuals confronted with similar struggles. To help someone in those moments is very satisfying. I love connecting with people and learning about their stories. I believe that dignity in the workplace is a right of all workers, not a convenience or privilege reserved for employees of a certain race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Legal Experience

I received my J.D. from the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law. While there, I served as a judicial extern to the Honorable Patrick J. Walsh of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where I drafted a criminal judicial opinion. Also, while at Gould, I served as an extern for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. As a Criminal Division Extern, I had the opportunity to work closely with a trial team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys on a money laundering case which further sparked my interest in litigation.

Personal Interests

In my free time, I enjoy urban vegetable gardening, traveling, and spending time with my nephew and niece. I also love to spend time at San Onofre Beach learning to surf, although admittedly, I am not very good.



Hallie L. Von Rock

Attorney (SBN 233152)

Education and Background

I moved to the Bay Area from Washington after graduating high school. I had been accepted to UC Berkeley through a program where I could defer for two years while getting my California residency and attending community college, which was significant since I was paying for college on my own. I began working for Randall Aiman-Smith and Reed Marcy in 1996 as an office manager while taking night classes. My first foray into the legal world was soon after starting at the firm when I was ready to transfer to UC Berkeley. Rather than accepting my resident status, the Board of Regents took the position that California residency required a student to be in California “two calendar years.” Randall and Reed took up my case with the same verve as they helped their actual clients and I got the chance to comb through the UC Berkeley library to read their codes and regulations to support my position. In that experience, I learned what is was like to feel helpless against a big organization and then to have dedicated attorneys in my corner to take up my cause.

After a break to pursue my major in art history, I went to UC Hastings College of Law and continued working with Randall and Reed. Having worked together now for over 25 years, we have a unique ability to work collaboratively and finish each other’s sentences. I have strived throughout my career to make a difference in the lives of our clients. At the end of the day, if I am helping someone to get compensation for losses they suffered, then I know that all the work put into a case has been worth it.

Legal Experience

I have extensive experience in civil litigation and class action cases, including conducting discovery and depositions, calculating damages analysis, preparing motions for certification, writing appellate documents, and overseeing claims administration. We have handled several class actions against retailers where plaintiffs claimed they were forced to purchase clothing to wear to work and were not compensated for these purchases, including against Abercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange, Uniqlo, Dollar Tree, and Ross. Recently, I was trial counsel in a defamation claim against Bank of America on behalf of a former employee who claimed the Bank blacklisted her with future employers. The jury found Bank of America liable, including for punitive damages.

Personal Interests

Aiman-Smith & Marcy has sponsored me in the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon. When I race, I often wear a “Rockstar Ronan” shirt to support research for childhood cancer through The Ronan Thompson Foundation.


University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1999

Hastings College of the Law, University of California, J.D., 2004

Randall Aiman-Smith

Abogado (SBN 124599)

Aiman-Smith & Marcy. Oakland consumer fraud attorneys.

Educación y antecedentes

Fui afortunado. A pesar de no haber terminado la escuela secundaria o la universidad, pude -aunque con mucho trabajo- ser admitido y sobresalir en una de las mejores escuelas de derecho del país: La Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Berkeley. Mientras estuve allí, tuve el privilegio de ser editor de la California Law Review y miembro del Moot Court Board, asesorando en la redacción de escritos y en la defensa de apelaciones a otros estudiantes. Después de salir de la escuela de derecho, en mis primeros años de práctica, enseñé la escritura legal y la defensa de apelación en la Universidad de California, Hastings College of the Law. También, a lo largo de los años, he sido presentador en eventos de educación legal continua.

Experiencia legal

He sido abogado durante 35 años. He dedicado mi práctica exclusivamente a representar a empleados, consumidores e inversores en los tribunales estatales y federales de primera instancia y en los tribunales de apelación. Me gusta ir a los tribunales por mis clientes y he llevado muchos casos con jurado en los tribunales estatales y federales.

¿Ejemplos? En 2010, fui la abogada principal, junto con los otros abogados del bufete, en el caso Williams v. Union Pacific Railroad donde, después de cuatro años de preparación, el bufete obtuvo un veredicto del jurado de 1.670.000 dólares para una empleada afroamericana. En Rivero v. Surdyka, fui el abogado principal en el juicio y la apelación de un caso de derechos civiles que duró 15 años, incluyendo un juicio completo y tres apelaciones al Noveno Circuito, concluyendo finalmente con una sentencia para los demandantes de más de 2.300.000 dólares. Estos casos ilustran el lema del bufete: compromiso – resultados. Hay que comprometerse con un caso, a veces durante mucho tiempo, para obtener el resultado que el cliente merece.

No siempre ganamos en el juicio. Cuando eso ocurre, el compromiso significa llevar el caso al siguiente nivel y recurrirlo. En el caso Rivero, antes mencionado, eso fue lo que ocurrió: el tribunal desestimó el caso -habíamos perdido- pero apelamos y conseguimos una victoria para nuestros clientes que mantuvimos a través de dos apelaciones más. Desde entonces, el bufete ha conseguido muchas victorias en apelación que reivindican los derechos de los empleados y los consumidores.

A lo largo de los años he sido abogado de los demandantes en numerosos casos individuales y acciones colectivas. Puede sonar cursi, o difícil de creer, pero después de todo este tiempo, y después de todas las grandes experiencias que he tenido, mi parte favorita de ser abogado es cuando consigo dar un cheque a mi cliente.



Facultad de Derecho, Universidad de California, Berkeley, J.D., 1986