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

Supermarket Cheated Workers, State Says

The top
two executives at an Associated supermarket in Brooklyn
were arrested on Wednesday on charges that they had cheated workers out of more
than $300,000 and had falsified business records that they gave to state
officials.

Attorney
General Andrew M. Cuomo said the executives paid no wages to supermarket
baggers — who received only tips — and paid a weekly salary of $300 to other
employees who worked 70-hour weeks; the pay rate breaks down to $4.29 an hour,
far less than the state’s minimum wage of $7.15 an hour.

State
officials said the two executives, Bienvenido Nunez and Martin Duran, the
president and vice president of the Associated supermarket at 229 Knickerbocker Avenue
in Bushwick, surrendered on Wednesday morning to investigators in Mr. Cuomo’s
office.

They
pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned in Kings County Criminal Court on
Wednesday afternoon.

Gisele
Kalonzo, a lawyer for the supermarket and the two executives, said: "They
maintain their innocence. They’re not guilty as charged, and the facts will
bear that out over the course of time."

Tomacina
Nunez, a bagger at the store since 2004, said that she often worked 11-hour
days, and that she received $12 or $14 in tips some days, and as much as $30
other days.

In
addition to the criminal charges, Mr. Cuomo’s office filed a civil lawsuit
demanding that the supermarket pay $600,000 in back wages and penalties for
more than 30 workers who received inadequate pay from 2004 to 2006.

"Our New York City work force
must be paid for every hour they work, and my office is committed to tracking
down the deceitful employers who swindle them, as well as getting every
hard-earned penny back to the employees who earned them." Mr. Cuomo said in a
prepared statement.

The
attorney general also accused the supermarket of giving the state falsified
business records, specifically a separate set of payroll records showing that
most of its employees worked no more than 40 hours a week. Mr. Cuomo said his
office had evidence that "every worker worked overtime for most weeks."

The two
executives were also charged with filing false documents with the State
Unemployment Insurance Fund, saying the supermarket employed fewer workers than
it actually did, to cut down on unemployment insurance taxes the market was
supposed to pay.

Complaints
of wage violations were brought to the attention of Mr. Cuomo’s office by a
workers’ advocacy group in Bushwick, called Make the Road New York, and the Retail, Wholesale and
Department Store Union. Most of the supermarket’s employees are Hispanic
immigrants.

The two
executives were charged with falsifying business records in the first degree
and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, felonies
punishable by up to four years in prison. They were also charged with failure
to pay wages, a misdemeanor.

One
longtime worker at the supermarket, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for
fear of losing his job, said that the store now paid the state’s minimum wage
for its employees’ first 40 hours in a week.

Noting
that many workers still worked 70-hour weeks, this employee added that many of
them did not receive time-and-a-half pay for overtime, as is required. And
sometimes, the employee added, they were not paid anything for some of the
overtime worked.

Nieves Padilla, an organizer with Make the Road New York, said, "These arrests send a
strong signal to abusive employers throughout the state that the days of
impunity for inhumane exploitation are over.