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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Courier
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Restaurateur Accused of Wage Theft

Salvadorian native Dimas Pineda, 48, worked 12-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week for 14 years at Plaza Garibaldi Restaurant in Jackson Heights.

Pineda said he cooked, cleaned and made deliveries for the Mexican restaurant. That is, until he left the job in early October because he was allegedly owed money. He said the wage problem started after a new owner, who is Mexican, took over the restaurant last year.

“Many times I asked him about my unpaid salary,” said Pineda, who lives in Corona. “My boss would tell me ‘tomorrow,’ but tomorrow never came.”

Pineda said he was supposed to get paid $600 a week, but only got paid $300. He claimed he was owed for a total of five weeks. He said he and four other workers left after not getting paid, but only two others demanded their money.

Immigrant workers like Pineda joined Make the Road New York (MRNY) and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on the City Hall Steps on Wednesday, November 17 to announce the City Council’s passage of a resolution calling on Albany pass the Wage Theft Prevention Act (WTPA) this year. Different versions of the bill have already passed the State Assembly (A.10163) and Senate (S.8380) this summer, but must be reconciled and signed by the governor to become law.

“This is an incredibly important issue at anytime, particularly now in these economic times,” Quinn said. “Time in New York without this law means stealing time and money from workers.”

The act would increase penalties and tighten enforcement of the New York laws protecting workers like those at Plaza Garibaldi from nonpayment and underpayment of wages. The National Employment Law Project estimates that more than $1 billion is stolen annually from NYC workers by employers. Advocates project that the WTPA would bring in approximately $50 million in increased savings and revenues to help the state government save valuable programs currently threatened by the fiscal crisis.

Under the bill, workers would get automatic damages of up to $10,000, when an employer discharges or retaliates against them. The WTPA also increases the amount of a judgment by 15 percent if an employer refuses to pay for 90 days after being found to owe money for stolen wages.

“For 15 years, MRNY has supported low-income works who stand up for their rights to be paid what they have earned through litigation and community pressure,” said Deborah Axt, deputy director of MRNY, a non-profit immigrant organization, during her testimony to the Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee.

That the kind of pressure Noel Garcia, manager for Plaza Garibaldi, and the owner felt during a protest outside of the restaurant on Thursday, November 11. Garcia said that they had fallen behind on payments because the restaurant was having a hard time, but they promised the workers they would get their money. Garcia said Pineda was even offered his job back, but he refused to take it.

“These people abandoned their job,” Garcia said. “They never came back to collect their money.”

Recently, Pineda and two other workers got what they were owed, according to Elizabeth Wagoner, senior staff attorney for Make the Road New York.

“It’s wonderful that this employer reacted to community pressure to pay their workers, but not every worker has someone rallying for them,” Wagoner said. “This is why we need to pass the Wage Theft Prevention Act.”