Restaurant Workers Victorious in ‘Wage Theft’ Case in Ithaca Small Claims Court
(Ithaca) Workers rights in Tompkins County took a big step forward today as City Judge James M . Kerrigan ruled in favor of five former employees of Hog’s Back BBQ, formerly of 120 Third St, Ithaca, NY. The judgements, which totaled over $8,100 between the five ex-employees, were decided in Small Claims Court without objection from the restaurant’s owner or manager, neither of whom attended the trial.
(FOR FIVE MINUTE VIDEO OF WORKERS SPEAKING ON THEIR VICTORY go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zqi69nsUUw)
Hog’s Back BBQ operated for a brief period of time between the spring and winter of 2009 in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. During this time, business associates and employees of the restaurant were routinely dealt with in a dishonest and illegal manner, which culminated in the restaurants demise in the early winter of 2009. The claims represent money owed primarily for unpaid wages and some tips over a period of five months. The judgements awarded today represent a small slice of justice, not only for the five claimants, but for all of those who were affected during the restaurants tumultuous run on Third St.
What the Hog’s Back BBQ case represents on a community-wide level, is that workers now have a precedent for taking action against unfair employers. This action, taken in Small Claims Court, has the two-fold effect of allowing more workers in Tompkins County to come forward with their problems at work, as well as letting unscrupulous business owners know that there will be consequences for their actions. In such a period of economic uncertainty it is all the more important that workers are assertive of their rights. As one of the claimants, Jackie Creque of Ithaca, said, “Just because you’re in a desperate situation doesn’t mean you should let people take advantage of you?Workers need to take more personal responsibility to prepare themselves for situations where maybe their boss isn’t on the up-and-up and may not be looking out for their best interests. Keep track of your hours and tips especially, and make sure you don’t wait too long to go to court for such things.”
Joining the five ex-Hogs Back BBQ employees in the City of Ithaca Court were Linda Holzbaur and Pete Meyers, Coordinators of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center. This showing of solidarity and community accountability is ultimately what the Tompkins County Workers’ Center is cultivating. Stacey Smith, who won a judgement for $1294.90, illustrated this by saying, “I’m really glad that they [fellow workers and members of the Workers’ Center] all showed up and were here supporting each other. It was nice. It felt really good.”