When does the workday begin?
That's the question at the heart of a wage-and-hour lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Camden on behalf of seven General Electric Co. service technicians - the people who drive repair vans to homes to fix people's washers, stoves, and other GE appliances.
General Electric starts the clock when the service techs arrive at their first repair assignment in the morning, the suit says.
However, by that time, it says, most techs have been working, unpaid, for as much as an hour.
Adding that hour a day onto a workweek pushes the service techs into overtime, but they aren't receiving any pay, let alone overtime, in violation of state and federal laws, the suit says.
"As a company policy, GE does not comment on ongoing litigation," spokesman Sebastien Duchamp wrote in an e-mail. "That said, GE provides its technicians with good jobs at competitive wages and a wide range of benefits."
Lawyers are seeking class-action status for the suit and a similar one filed in 2013 in federal court in Florida. The filing in Camden results from one of the plaintiffs and one of the lawyers' residing in New Jersey.
Plaintiffs in the New Jersey case are from Jenkintown, Egg Harbor Township, Delaware, Massachusetts, Florida, and Georgia.
The computerized system that GE installed to streamline its repair process is the cause of the problem, said Robert D. Soloff, one of two Florida lawyers handling the first case.
GE issued laptops to the techs, Soloff said, who had to spend about a half-hour every morning setting up their route, making sure they had the needed parts. and answering e-mails. The boot-up process, Soloff said, took at least five minutes.
Before, the technicians, who keep their vans at home, would receive a quick text and head to their first assignment. That would count as their commute, and they would not be paid - nor did they deserve to be, Soloff said.
But the time spent on the laptop at their homes started their day and therefore put them on the clock, he said.
"This is an excellent job," Soloff said. "They are doing nice work, serving customers, and making people happy."
But, Soloff said, increasing quotas, driven by the data from the computers, drove the techs to complain, particularly when they also had to spend off-the-clock time ordering parts for their clients and maintaining GE repair vans.
Because they would be disciplined if they didn't meet their repair quotas, the techs often skipped lunch, though they were required by law to have a paid break - another wage-and-hour violation, the suit said.
Soloff said the suit started when his Florida cocounsel, Alan Eichenbaum, started talking to a GE service tech who came to his home. Plaintiffs' lawyers in the New Jersey case are partners Justin L. Swidler and Richard S. Swartz of Cherry Hill.