Workers’ Center Helps to Uncover Serious Wage Violations at Two Ithaca Restaurants, Taste of Thai and Tamarind

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) announces today, in collaboration with the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL)–see DOL Press Release below– the results of an investigation which found substantial labor law and wage violations (involving 36 workers and a $28K settlement) found against two Ithaca restaurants: Taste of Thai (located on The Commons) and Tamarind (503 N. Meadow Street).

Two ‘front of the house’ workers approached the TCWC this past summer with great concern about how they and others, especially ‘back of the house’ workers, were being treated with respect to tip, overtime, and days of work violations, after feeling like attempts to talk with restaurant ownership were rebuffed.

The TCWC then had a meeting in June with the owner and business manager of the restaurants, who expressed interest in signing a Community Responsibility Agreement (CRA)–see sample here–with the TCWC. However, the TCWC was never again contacted by the restaurants about signing the CRA. The TCWC fearing that it was hearing only part of the story, then contacted the NYSDOL to find out what was legal and what was not.

Says former wait person at Taste of Thai, Deidra Cross, “I feel it is imperative to keep open, honest communications with superiors and co-workers in the workplace in order to establish an honest and legal work environment. I think the results of this situation shows that people need to have a willingness to seek outside assistance if they feel their work environment unjust or operating in an illegal fashion.”

The news of the settlement with Taste of Thai and Tamarind comes within the context of a growing movement to end ‘wage theft’, a serious problem in various industries (a record level of recovered wages in New York was reported in 2008 alone in New York State–$24.6 million for 17,000 workers, probably the tip of the iceberg). The TCWC has a strong record in dealing with ‘wage theft’ and other labor law violations (Kinko’s, Collegetown Pizzeria, New Delhi Diamond’s Restaurant, and the Plum Tree/Sushi o Sake Restaurants).

Workers should know that they can contact the Workers’ Center at 607-269-0409 or if they have concern about their rights at the workplace, or would like to report ‘wage theft’ at work.

Press Conference, Wednesday 1/21 @ Workers’ Center. Seated at table, former Taste of Thai Employee, Deidra Cross, with Pete Meyers of the Workers’ Center; Geovanny Trivino from the New York State Department of Labor, and Matt Peterson, present Taste of Thai employee.

New York State Department of Labor Press Release, 1/21/09:

Two Ithaca restaurants were found by the State Labor Department to be underpaying their workers by thousands of dollars, Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith announced today. Taste of Thai and Tamarind, owned by Ariya Pancharoen, violated a number of labor laws, including overtime provisions, recordkeeping, and tip appropriations. Overall, 36 workers are collectively owed $28,388 in wage underpayments. The owner has signed a stipulation agreeing to pay the full amount to workers in three monthly payments, which began for Taste of Thai on November 15, and began for Tamarind on January 15, 2009.

“Labor laws are in place to protect workers throughout the state, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, from Islip to Ithaca. Even though people sometimes think of labor law violations as a big-city problem, we see such cases throughout the state,” said Commissioner Smith. “Taste of Thai and Tamarind will pay their workers every cent that is owed to them, and we will be watching both establishments very closely to make certain that nothing like this ever happens again”.

In May, the Labor Department received an anonymous complaint alleging labor law issues at Taste of Thai. Employees, who were primarily of Thai descent, were interviewed by Labor Department investigators through a Thai interpreter. During the course of the investigation, it was discovered that the owner of Taste of Thai also owned and operated Tamarind, prompting investigators to look into the labor practices of that restaurant as well. DOL staff also had conversations with the Tompkins County Workers’ Center at this time in regard to the experiences of employees from Taste of Thai who had contacted the.

The investigation into the two restaurants indicated that they were not paying overtime rates to employees, even though staff regularly worked well over forty hours per week. In addition, the restaurants were taking tips from the service staff and distributing the money to other employees – also an illegal practice. The restaurant did not keep adequate time and payroll records as required. Investigators also found that not all employees were given a day of rest each week, as mandated by law.

Says Pete Meyers, Coordinator of the Workers’ Center: “We are pleased to have been able to work collaboratively with the Labor Department, as well as the workers we have connected with locally, in successfully resolving this matter. We urge any worker who has questions about their wages, or feel they are being treated unfairly, to contact the Workers’ Center of the NYS Labor Department.”

New York State’s minimum wage is $7.15 per hour, and employers are required to pay overtime for weekly hours past forty at one and one-half times the employee’s regular pay rate. In certain limited cases, employers are permitted to pay a lower, “tipped” rate to employees who receive tips. However, employers must pay the appropriate wage to tipped employees and may not expect them to work for tips only. The investigations were handled by Labor Standards Investigator, Susan Wood.

The State Labor Department encourages employers and workers to contact the Department about wage and hour issues. Investigators will answer any questions regarding compliance with New York’s labor laws. Information is also available on the Department’s website,; or by phone at 1-800-447-3992.