Member Frank Mejerski files class action suit

A Teamsters member has filed a class action suit against a Hollywood payroll company, claiming that he and others have been deprived of full benefits because the firm failed to withhold disability payments or pay unemployment insurance.

Studio driver Frank Mejerski worked on Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” last year. In his suit, he says that although he was hired in California to drive a truck licensed in the state, the payroll firm Cast & Crew did not pay SDI from more than $40,000 in wages he earned while the production was shooting in Hawaii. When he injured his back in March, he learned that his benefits were significantly reduced.

Leo Reed, the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399, said that the union is challenging Cast & Crew’s position that work out of state does not have enough “connection” to California to warrant the withholding of disability or payment of unemployment insurance. The suit was filed on behalf of “all similarly situated employees,” and Reed said that this problem is increasing as incentives lure more production out of state.

A spokesman for the Teamsters local also supplied copies of two decisions from 2009 and 2010 in which the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board ruled its members’ work was “localized” in California even though some of their production wages were earned for work out of state.

But Alan Brunswick of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, representing Cast & Crew, said that Mejerski worked for a total of 16 weeks, 10 of which were in Hawaii. As such, the payroll firm paid disability insurance to the state of the Hawaii for the time Mejerski worked there because it amounted to a “substantial” portion of his work.

“That is the way we understand the law to read,” he said, citing a set of four California employment guidelines used to determine where the payments should be made. He noted one provision that states “where the service performed outside of California is either permanent, substantial or unrelated, it cannot be treated as localized in California.” He also said that cases differ based on length of work performed elsewhere, so the other cases cited by Teamsters are not relevant.

“Each case is different on its own set of facts,” he said.

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