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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Celebrating a Settlement on Overtime Pay

In the
world of labor-law violations, a $136,633.73 settlement is not a lot of money.
After all, in just the past week alone, a group of Bronx construction workers
received $1.23 million in back pay and a group of Queens
apparel workers received $5.3 million in pay that they were owed.

But for
Rodrigo Vázquez, who worked 13 hours a day, six days a week in the kitchen of
the popular Trattoria Pesce Pasta on the East Side,
a recent settlement achieved with help from an activist organization and the
State Labor Department is sweet indeed. On May 31, the restaurant’s owners
agreed to pay $136,633.73 in back wages to a group of workers; $23,000 of the
total will go to Mr. Vázquez. (So far, the owners have paid $60,000 of the

“I feel
happy, not just because of the money but because other people now feel support
and justice,” Mr. Vázquez, an immigrant from Ecuador,
said at a news conference in Manhattan
on Monday afternoon. “People who are undocumented feel afraid. This case shows
that they can rely on community organizations and the Department of Labor. It’s
not just about me.”

Vázquez said his new job, in a kitchen at Kennedy International
, is “very good,
very respectful. It’s different.”

support from
Make the Road New York, an activist group based in Brooklyn, Mr. Vázquez took part in a demonstration
outside the restaurant in December. “At first, not knowing about my rights, I
was afraid, but seeing how the center worked made me feel stronger,” he said of
Make the Road. “Having the Department of Labor do a big investigation
was very powerful.”

Gerstein, a deputy commissioner in the State Labor Department, also took part
in the news conference outside the restaurant on First Avenue near East 59th Street.

“A lot of
times workers are afraid to come to us, but they will go to grassroots and
community organizations that are not government agencies,” Ms. Gerstein said.
“Every time we resolve a case, that case has a ripple effect – not only for the
workers but for their families, their coworkers, also anyone who will work at
those businesses in the future.”

Irene Tung, 29, the director of organizing at Make the Road New York, called the settlement at Pesce
Pasta “a huge victory.”

violations are a problem all over New
York City
— it’s not just one bad apple — but nobody
talks about it,” she said. “We all just go out and eat and enjoy ourselves when
there are egregious violations that go on everyday.”

Julissa Bisono, workplace justice organizer for Make the Road New York, also made a short speech in front
of the restaurant.

Alvarez, a senior labor standards investigator at the State Labor Department,
who oversaw the case, said the investigation took about four months. “The
hardest part about cases like this is getting workers to come forward,” he
said. “Workers are often afraid they will lose their jobs and will stay even if
they are being treated unjustly because of the difficulty of obtaining other

A chef at
the restaurant, Bruno Cavallri, 62, said the business’s manager and owner were
not available for comment. Mr. Cavallri said he had worked with Pesca Pasta for
18 years, and at the East Side location since
1995. “For me, my situation is good,” he said, when asked about working
conditions at the business.

A waiter
at the restaurant, who declined to give his name but said he had worked at the
restaurant for about six years, said, “If you work, no problem. It’s good.”