Feb. 21, 2012

IMMIGRANT WORKERS RECOVER NEARLY $400,000 IN WAGE THEFT SETTLEMENTS

IMMIGRANT WORKERS RECOVER NEARLY $400,000 IN WAGE THEFT SETTLEMENTS

Congratulations to CPA, ALC, and PWA!

San Francisco -- On February 17, 2011, the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA), Asian Law Caucus (ALC), and the Progressive Workers Alliance (PWA) announced nearly $400,000 in major wage theft settlements won in the past few months in collaboration with various government agencies, marking significant progress in their Campaign to End Wage Theft.  The first case is a $316,000+ settlement of a major wage theft case in San Francisco, which resolved claims for unpaid wages, tips, meal and rest break premiums and penalties filed by eight immigrant restaurant workers from Pho Clement, as well as numerous citations issued against the employer by the state Labor Commissioner’s Bureau of Field Enforcement (BOFE). This settlement was achieved through a collaborative effort between workers, the Labor Commissioner’s office, and legal and community advocates. PWA also announced an additional $73,000+ in wages recovered from two other wage theft cases achieved in collaboration with other government agencies, including a precedent-setting case where the SF Public Health Department (DPH) used their authority to grant health permits to assist workers in collecting on a wage order issued by the state.

“Today we are announcing almost $400,000 being put back into the local economy, by restoring wages to the workers who earned them. Seventy percent of the US economy relies on consumer spending, which means that restoring stolen wages to workers is a significant boost to the economy. As long as we have so many people underpaid or out of work, our economy will never recover and responsible businesses will continue to struggle,” said Shaw San Liu, Lead Organizer at CPA. “That’s why the Progressive Workers Alliance is so pleased to announce today’s victories, and why we will continue the Campaign to End Wage Theft and simultaneously advocate for job creation for working-class and immigrant communities.”

Last year, PWA launched their Campaign to End Wage to help workers just like the eight men who worked at Pho Clement. At two branches of the popular Vietnamese restaurant (Pho Clement #1 and Pho Clement #2) located in the Richmond District, restaurant workers were working 12.5 hours per day for 6 to 7 days a week, earning as little as $65 a day with no breaks or overtime. That is an hourly wage of approximately $5.20, a far cry from the $10.24 now mandated by San Francisco's minimum wage law, which increased from $9.92 on January 1st this year.

Workers' tips were also unlawfully taken by management. Workers faced great hardship from the wage theft and the long hours worked.

However, when the state labor agency investigated, many workers were afraid to tell the truth because they feared losing their jobs. One worker, Luong Vuong, organized his seven Chinese and Vietnamese coworkers to come together and seek assistance from CPA and ALC, and in spite of their fears and language barriers, the workers persevered.

At first, the employers claimed that they would need years to pay off the back wages owed. But the workers took action, and worked closely with organizers at CPA and legal advocates at ALC to file individual claims to seek amounts not included in the citations issued by the state labor agency. Through this significant and groundbreaking partnership, ALC and the state agency were able to negotiate a lump sum settlement within a few months time, including the employer’s commitment to follow applicable employment and labor laws in the future.

Worker leader Luong Vuong said, “We are all very happy about this agreement and to receive our back wages so quickly. I want to encourage other workers to come forward and seek assistance if they are being cheated of their wages.”

“The workers simply sought to be properly paid for the work that they had performed and for other protections they were entitled to under the law. We were proud to stand with these workers who were courageous enough to assert their workplace rights,” said ALC staff attorney, Winnie Kao.

"The Labor Commissioner's office has stepped up enforcement in the lowest-wage industries since Julie Su took over as Labor Commissioner," said Donna Chen, Senior Deputy who led this investigation for the state. "As the first Asian American Labor Commissioner for California, Julie Su has made it clear to the entire Division that we must be more aggressive about protecting workers and honest employers by conducting meaningful inspections, collecting wages owed, and leveling the playing field. In addition, effective partnerships with community-based organizations is key to the Labor Commissioner's visions. Without the Asian Law Caucus and the Chinese Progressive Association, we could not have achieved this victory."

In addition to the $316,000+ the workers from Pho Clement won, PWA also highlighted two other recent wage theft victories. One worker from Great Oriental, a restaurant located in Chinatown, recently won over $53,000 in unpaid overtime and minimum wages from a battle spanning two years. While originally 14 workers from the restaurant filed a claim with OLSE in 2010, two years later, only one of the workers continued the case and recovered her rightful wages. The rest of the workers dropped out of the case due to harassment from the employer and fear of retaliation.

PWA also shared a groundbreaking new collaboration between PWA member organization, Young Workers United (YWU), and the SF Department of Public Health (DPH), to help workers collect wages owed to them by using DPH’s authority to issue health permits. When two former workers from a cafe run by Best Beverage Catering (BBC) filed and won a claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office for unpaid overtime and wages, they waited in vain for over a year for the employer to pay them the $10,000 owed to each of them. In 2011 they approached YWU for help, who in turn asked DPH to hold a hearing about the issue, where they ordered the employer to comply or risk losing their Permit to Operate. Finally, two-and-a-half years after filing a complaint with the DLSE, the workers were paid in time for the holidays last year.

The former BBC worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “When this happened to me, I did not think I was going to ever get paid back. If it weren’t for the city, we would still be waiting. I am really grateful for what this city did for me and what it does for others like me.”

Background on PWA’s Campaign to End Wage Theft:

Wage theft is a national epidemic that hurts workers, responsible employers, and the local economy, costing the state of California an estimated $7 billion a year. A 2011 study found that nearly 1 in 2 Americans is low-income, revealing the extent to which the economic crisis has increased the rates of unemployment, underemployment, and wage theft across the country. In response to this growing crisis, the Progressive Workers Alliance launched the Campaign to End Wage Theft in May of 2011. The worker-led Campaign raised public awareness about the devastating impact of wage theft on our economy, educated policymakers, and passed a new Wage Theft prevention ordinance by unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors. The ordinance, co-authored by Supervisors David Campos and Eric Mar, was signed into law on September 16, 2011 and went into effect on October 16, 2011.

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Filed under: Immigrant Workers | Immigration | Low-Wage Workers | Wage Theft | Worker Centers