New York State Dept of Labor and Tompkins County Workers’ Center Announce Results of Targeted Restaurant ‘Sweep’

The New York State Department of Labor’s (DOL) Commissioner, Patricia Smith, announced today in a Joint Press Conference with the Tompkins County Workers’ Center and City of Ithaca Mayor, Carolyn Peterson, the findings of a targeted DOL investigation of 22 Tompkins County restaurants. In May 2009, investigators from the DOL’s Division of Labor Standards and Unemployment Insurance found that eight of the restaurants – 36 percent – were in full compliance with labor laws. However, the other 14 restaurants -64 percent of those visited – were found to have violated New York State Labor Laws. Specifically, the DOL found that $87,925 is owed to 93 employees at 6 restaurants for violations such as failure to pay minimum wage and illegal deductions from workers’ paychecks.

Commissioner Smith said, “I’m encouraged by the fact that almost one-quarter of the restaurants we checked were in full compliance with labor laws. To them I say thank you – thank you for treating your workers fairly and thank you for playing by the rules. Ultimately, a level playing field helps all New Yorkers – workers and businesses alike. But several of them resulted in workers being cheated out of wages earned [complete list of restaurants examined at end of this email], and the State not receiving monies needed to pay Unemployment Insurance benefits to unemployed workers.

The Workers’ Center was involved in referring some of the complaints to the DOL and is incredibly thankful that we have a governmental agency that is willing and able to act effectively on behalf of worker justice. The DOL is also to be praised for its proactive approach to enforcement which focuses not only on complaints, but also focusing on entire industries for enforcement ‘sweeps’, especially those industries such as the restaurant industry that are rife with wage and hour violations. We believe that the presence of both Commissioner Smith and Mayor Peterson at Thursday’s Press Conference confirms that our growing collaboration for fair treatment of all workers will continue and deepen.

Unfortunately we know that the issue of Wage Theft extends well beyond what the diligent DOL enforcement efforts have uncovered here in Tompkins County. In this community, in this state, and in this nation, there are far, far too many cases of workers being cheated out of the fruits of their hard labor. In September 2009, a strong collaborating partner to the Workers Center, the National Employment Law Project (NELP), released a comprehensive study that NELP did around the country, Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers. This study reveals that approximately 2/3 of low-wage workers are denied full pay, each losing, on average, over $2,600/year. The study, which the Workers’ Center can validate as constituting very real problems, also found in its interviews with close to 5,000 workers that in regards to:

*Minimum wage: 1 in 4 workers (26%) are paid below the minimum wage ($7.25/hour) in a given work week;

*Overtime pay: 76% of those who worked overtime were not paid the required time and a half;

*Meal breaks: More than two-thirds (69%) did not get meal breaks they were entitled to;

*Off-the-clock work: 70% did not get any pay at all for work performed outside their regular shift;

*Tipped pay: Nearly 1/3 (30%) of tipped workers were not paid the tipped worker minimum wage (presently $4.65/hour in NYS)

*Pay documentation: 57% of workers did not receive mandatory pay stubs (and as of 10/09, NYS Labor Law requires that employers now give newly-hired workers written notice of the rate at which they will be paid and their regular payday, under Section 195.1 of NY Labor Law);

*Employer retaliation: 43% experienced illegal retaliation following complaints;

*Workers’ compensation: Only 6% of injured workers received coverage for medical expenses;

*Exempt workers; 89% of ‘in-home’ child care workers earned less than the minimum wage.

The Workers’ Center is pleased to announce that we have had preliminary meetings with the Downtown Ithaca Alliance to begin a process of better educating both restaurant owneres as well as other employers downtown to what is legal and what is not. We hope to also involve the local Chamber of Commerce and Human Rights Commission in this collaboration.

However we need to be clear. The Mission of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, simply put, is to stand up with all people treated unfairly at work or faced with critical poverty, racial, housing, health care, or other social and economic issues. We support, advocate for, and seek to empower each other to create a more just community and world. We believe in a Living Wage and fair treatment in the workplace, and will continue to work resolutely to hold to account any employers who treat their workers unfairly or violate the statutory protections we all should enjoy.

22 Targeted Restaurants Involved in Department of Labor ‘Sweep’ in Tompkins County:

1) Simeons Restaurant – Underpayment assessed for uniform purchase and uniform maintenance for 31 employees in amount of $5,767.60.

Employer did not launder or pay uniform maintenance allowance for required uniforms; also employer made illegal deductions (required employees to buy uniforms pre-employment).

2) Madelyns Restaurant – Violation – child labor law for not having working papers for one 17 year old minor. $100.00 penalty.

3) The Rose Restaurant – One employee was not paid overtime as required by law; instead he was paid a weekly salary which included no overtime premium. Employer was assessed $20,000.00 and agreed to pay in 7 installments.

Violations found: No working certificate on premises, failure to have minors properly identified on schedule, not paying overtime, not providing a day of rest.

4) Capital Corner Restaurant – Minimum wage violation. One employee who worked in the kitchen is owed $13,564. Employer is currently on a payment plan. Has made 4 payments and has paid $3,995.40.

5) That Burrito Place – Nonpayment of uniform maintenance allowance for $9,398.40 for 24 employees. We are negotiating at the present time.

6) Asia Cuisine – Minimum wage violations. Employer paid tipped food service workers $10 per shift, for shifts lasting 4 – 5 hours; accordingly, workers were paid $2.00 – $2.50 per hour. This rate is well below the minimum wage in effect for tipped food service workers at the time, which was $4.60 per hour. Also, violations of requirement to maintain payroll records. Underpayments estimated at approximately $37,933.57 for 19 employees.

7) New Delhi Diamonds – Employer failed to pay split shift supplement. Underpayment of $1,261.20 collected and released to 6 individuals.

8) Sushi O’ Sake – No minimum wage problems. Violation found – failure to have proper records. Employer educated.

9) Samuri Japanese Restaurant – No minimum wage problems.

Violations found – employer not paying manual workers weekly. Failure to have proper records. Employer educated.

10) Lost Dog Café – No minimum wage problems. – Violations found –

meal period violation and employer not paying manual workers weekly. Employer educated.

11) Pizza Aroma – No minimum wage problems and no violations served.

12) Jimmy Johns – Tip appropriation violation: management had access to jar on counter for tips. Violation 196D served and employer educated.

13) Bella Pizza – No minimum wage problems and no violations served.

14) Ithaca Diner – No minimum wage problems and no violations served.

15) Ragmann’s – No minimum wage problems. Violation – employee not furnished with proper paystub information. Employer educated.

16) Sammy’s Pizzeria and Restaurant – No minimum wage problems. Violations – No day of rest, failure to have proper records, and illegal deductions.

17) Jade Garden – No minimum wage problems or violations served.

18) Sangam Indian Curry – No minimum wage problems or violations served.

19) Paul’s Café and Grill – No minimum wage problems or violations served.

20) Viva Tarqeria – No minimum wage problems. Violation – meal period violation. Employer educated.

21) Hal’s Deli – No minimum wage problems or violations served.

22) D.P. Dough – No minimum wage problems.

Violations served – child labor – no working papers for one 17 year old minor, failure to have minors properly identified on the schedule, employer not paying manual workers weekly.$750.00 civil penalty assessed.