The Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association (“CSWA”), a partner organization in the CILEC consortium, contacted Catholic Migration Services in late 2018 with a request for legal assistance for a number of workers that they had been organizing who were owed significant sums of wages. The group had worked in a Chinatown dim sum restaurant and most were owed up to eight weeks of unpaid wages when the restaurant closed its doors in August 2018. Jin Ming “Vincent” Cao, an organizer with CSWA, is one of the many workers who was owed unpaid wages and decided to sue his former employers, Joy Luck Palace Restaurant, its owners and its general manager. Catholic Migration Services filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of 19 of those workers, most of whom were Chinese immigrants, employed by Joy Luck Palace restaurant for about two and a half years. The group of workers, consisting of captains, servers, and bussers, pleaded violations of federal and state minimum wage and overtime laws, state spread-of-hours laws, state notice and paystub provisions, and state laws governing the purchase and maintenance of uniforms. The employers failed to participate in the litigation, and, after reviewing the workers’ sworn testimony and employment records, the judge overseeing the case ordered the employers to pay the full amount of damages that the workers sought in the litigation, totaling approximately $950,000.
Although a win for Vincent and his former coworkers, the 19 employees have yet to collect on their owed wages. According to a NY Daily News article, Vincent believes that recovery of the workers’ wages will be an uphill battle, stating that “the restaurant’s owners and operators had plenty of time to hide their assets as the lawsuit ground a conclusion.” Thomas Power, an attorney with Catholic Migration Services who represented the 19 workers in that federal case shared Vincent’s concerns that judgment collection will likely be difficult sharing that “it’s fair to suspect that [the defendants] have taken some steps to move their assets.” Power added that “there is a bill that was recently passed by the New York State legislature, which advocates refer to as the SWEAT Bill, that would give workers some extra tools to help their efforts in recovering unpaid wages.” As of the date of this posting, that new piece of legislation currently awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
In fact, every year, workers in New York State are cheated out of an estimated $1 Billion that they earn but are not paid. Immigrant workers bear the brunt of this wage-theft, often toiling in low-wage industries where they don’t receive minimum wage or overtime, and sometimes receive no wages at all for days or weeks of work. To learn how you can help fight this epidemic, click here.
Read the full article in the NY Daily News: Workers in NYS are owed up to $1 billion in stolen wages: experts