En Español Know Your Rights
Source: The Epoch Times
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Group Finds Underpaid Restaurant Workers Common

Policy
reform advocate group Make the Road New York stated their case for supporting
citywide reform of the way the restaurant industry is regulated.

Gathering
in front of Adriatic Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria on 1st Ave. in Stuyvesant Town,
members of Make the Road introduced a report entitled
"Restaurant Workers in Crisis." The report details their research and describes
anecdotal evidence of wage violations. Adriatic
is one of the establishments cited for violating minimum wage laws.

Antonio
Corona, a former worker at Adriatic Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria said he
was made to work 12 hours a day for $20—an average of $1.67 an hour. Corona and a few other
former Adriatic employees are suing the restaurant for in back wages, which
they claim to total $1 million. Make the Road and MFY Legal Services serve as
their attorneys.

Make the Road New York’s community services include legal aid for things such
as workplace justice. "We found that cases coming through our doors are not
just bad apples," said Irene Tung, Make the Road’s Coordinator of Organizing. "The entire restaurant industry in New York City needs overhaul." Tung added
that violators run the gamut from mom-and-pop diners to critically acclaimed
establishments.

According
to a survey of over 537 New York
restaurants conducted by The Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, 13
percent of surveyed restaurants paid below the State minimum wage and 59
percent did not pay overtime. Only 20 percent reported earning a "living wage,"
defined as at least $13.47 per hour in New York State.

Economic changes have compounded the problems in the food
industry. The de-unionization of restaurant workers 50 years ago, the rising costs
of running a restaurant, and a labor force that shifted from the fading local
manufacturing industry were some of the factors that brewed a perfect storm for
restaurant workers. According to the National Employment Law Project, over
160,000 workers serve the New York
City restaurant industry, two-thirds of who were
immigrants as of 2000.

While economic forces may be a fact of life, public policy could help
curtail wage violations in the industry, the report’s authors suggest.

Legislative
Action

In 2007,
the City Council introduced the Responsible Restaurant Act (Intro. 596) to
amend the administrative code to require the commissioner of the Department of
Health and Mental Hygiene to consider whether the applicant adheres to
standards of good character and fitness before issuing the restaurant an
operating permit. Currently

The
Council’s Committee on Health heard the bill last March. The bill was laid over
by the Committee, which means that no further action was since taken. Make the Road
hopes that the bill will move forward and be considered in full Council.

Other
measures advocated are more resources to enforce Federal and State wage laws
and the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to
unionize. The State labor department recently announced a grassroots effort to
make labor laws more widely known in workplaces.