En EspaƱol Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Group Says Workers Paid Peanuts

"It
was difficult to survive," said Corona, 38,
who said he delivered food for and cleaned at the Adriatic Italian Restaurant
on First Ave.
in Manhattan
from 11 a.m. to midnight, six days a week, for $2.30 an hour. "To work for
that much time for so little money," he said, "It’s not fair."

Corona is one victim of
what an advocacy group charged in a new report is a broad pattern of
restaurants drastically underpaying their employees.

"They’ve
gotten away with this sort of thing for so long," said
Amy Carroll, a
lawyer with advocacy group
Make the Road New York.

Make the Road released a report
last week accusing 11 restaurants – two in Brooklyn, two in Queens and seven in
Manhattan – of paying their workers less than minimum wage – $4.60 an hour for
employees who get tips – or failing to pay overtime.

Corona, an immigrant from
Mexico, said he relied on
tips to get by for the 18 years he worked at Adriatic,
sharing a three-bedroom apartment with his wife and eight kids, ranging in age
from 6 months to 19 years.

"We
bought secondhand clothes for the kids," he said. "Twice, the lights
got cut off because we hadn’t been able to pay the bill."

Corona‘s eldest son,
Adan, started working at the restaurant when he was 15 to help support the
family. He juggled high-school classes with eight-hour shifts, six days a week
– and made just $10 a day.

"I
needed to help my mother buy food and clothes," said Adan, now 19. "I
thought it was normal."

The
father and son and two other workers are now suing Adriatic
in Manhattan Federal Court for $1 million in back pay and damages.

Pashi
Camaj, whose family owns the restaurant, denied the charges, insisting workers
were paid at least minimum wage. "They’re lying," he said. "The
bottom line is they want money.

"They
don’t have documents," he said. "How can they sue somebody who’s
paying taxes for 40 years and making a living for 40 years in this
country?"

Another
lawsuit, in Brooklyn Federal Court, charged Williamsburg restaurant Cono &
Sons O’Pescatore paid waiters Jacinto Plascencia and Miguel Vallejos as little
as 90 cents an hour.

"They
got paid $10 a shift and they were working 10, 11 hours a day," said
Carroll, who is representing the men in a $300,000 suit.

"We’re
going to vigorously defend the allegations in this complaint because they’re
without merit," Cono lawyer Stephen Hans said.

He
said many restaurants who hire off-the-books workers get hit with frivolous
labor claims. "Many of them pay what they’re supposed to and more, but
since they can’t prove it, they become vulnerable," he said.

But
Make the Road organizer Irene
Tung

insisted Adriatic and Cono’s alleged abuses
are just the tip of the iceberg.

"The
cases that were coming through our door were not just bad apples,"
Tung said. "They were demonstrating that
the entire restaurant industry in New
York
needs to be overhauled."