Monday, December 17, 2012

For New Yorkers, Having a Job No Longer Guarantees a Paycheck

For employees of restaurants, even trendy ones, having a job doesn't mean that you will get paid.

In January 2010, The New York Times reported that the popular Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Grill was facing allegations of "harassing and firing workers who protested age discrimination and expressed support for joining a union." These were the second set of labour violations against Saigon Grill.

In 2008, "... Saigon was forced to pay $4.6 million to its deliver workers, after a federal judge found that the owners at the time, Simon and Michelle Nget, regularly violated minimum-wage and overtime laws, paying their employees as little as $1.65 an hour," reported the Columbia Spectator.

All across New York City, restaurant employees were not getting paid. Employees of Flor de Mayo, Tomo Sushi, Vine Sushi and Sake, and Ollies, a popular restaurant with multiple locations, had to resort to legal action to collect their due wages.

Many of the restaurants, which owed employees millions in unpaid wages, filed for bankruptcy.

Many restaurant employees were not paid overtime, and the hourly wages that they were paid were "well below legal limits."

It's not known, but it was suspected, that the bankruptcy filings were a way for the restaurants to try to avoid making full payment of the back wages rightfully owed to their employees. Bankruptcy reorganisations allow companies to continue operating whilst they try to restructure or renegotiate their debts.

Restaurant employees, who work as deliverymen, are often immigrants with low occupational skills or language barriers, and many probably believe that they have no choice but to put up with the wage fraud by their employers. Some of the employees were "required to work 11 to 13 hours a day, usually six days a week," The New York Times reported, for example. Deliverymen at Saigon Grill were found to have been paid approximately $2 an hour. In their work situation, it would be easy for unscrupulous employers to exploit vulnerable employees.

Employees at popular New York City restaurants are not the only ones, who are risk of not getting paid their due wages.

What would have happened to the wage dynamic in New York City, had Wal-Mart been allowed to set up some of its huge stores here ?

Recently, a new labour movement was launched around employees at fast food restaurants, too. All this talk brings us to the issue : what is a "living wage" ?

Just because you might have a restaurant job in some of New York City's most busiest restaurants, it doesn't necessarily mean that you can count on your rightfully complete paycheck, much less a living wage.

What does this say about our economy, if the success of some businesses are premised on finding ways to seriously underpay their employees ?

The information about Saigon Grill and Ollies was from 2008 to 2010. Earlier this year, five locations of East Japanese Restaurants agreed to a court settlement for underpayment of and backwages to 225 current and former waiters, runners, and bussers for $1.25 million.

Are service industry employees being routinely exploited ?

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