According to a March 18, 2009 article, a New York noodle shop owner named Tsu Yue Wang has been ordered to shell out more than $2.3 million in back pay owed to hundreds of current and former employees at his restaurants in Queens, Flushing, and the Upper West Side. The suit alleges long term and systematic violations of labor laws.
Mr. Wang was accused of failing to pay minimum wage to his delivery people, cooks, wait staff, and other employees and denying overtime legally due. Kitchen staff, for instance, regularly labored more than 60 hours a week and received just $300 in compensation – a rate well below New York City’s minimum wage. A separate lawsuit filed against Mr. Wang in 2007 alleges even grosser abuses of Wage and Hour rules – some of Mr. Wang’s employees claimed to have earned just $1.40 per hour for brutal and demanding restaurant work.
Unfortunately, this noodle shop abuse case appears to be more the rule than the exception when it comes to restaurant Wage and Hour violations. Joseph & Kirschenbaum’s attorney Maimon Kirschenbaum has prosecuted many similar Wage and Hour matters over the past several years. Three conclusions can be drawn:
1. Wage and hour violations seem systemic and built into the culture of the U.S. restaurant industry.
2. Despite the rash of recent lawsuits filed as well as education efforts made by groups like the Department of Labor, many restaurateurs stubbornly refuse to change their employee-abusive labor practices, while denying it is occurring.
3. The employees harmed by these violations tend to be from particularly vulnerable and defenseless classes. That is, abused employees disproportionately tend to be relatively uneducated, poor, and foreign born.