money.jpgDiners feasting on forbidden shark fin soup or other delicacies in Chinatown might want to consider tipping their servers generously, maybe even slipping the 15-20 percent in their dim-sum bearer’s pocket. It’s quite possible that the restaurant staff, from the back of the house to the front, is paid less than minimum wage and doesn’t receive breaks — and despite this happening in public places and with public knowledge, there’s very little the city can do about it.

Investigations into workplace violations by the city department charged with enforcing labor laws, the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, often take over a year or more to complete, sometimes resulting in nothing, sometimes resulting in nothing plus a complaining worker getting fired.

That doesn’t encourage employers to follow the law, says Supervisor David Campos, who wants to change all this with legislation introduced Tuesday aimed at ending “wage theft” and other worker abuse.

City agencies would be allowed greater access to workplaces, investigations would be required to be completed within a year, and penalties for employer retaliation, failure to post minimum wage rates in the workplace would be imposed and enforced under Campos’s law.

“All San Franciscans should be paid at least the minimum wage,” Campos said Tuesday. That’s $9.92 an hour, and who can argue with that?

Employers, for one. The problem of wage theft is prevalent in neighborhoods in which workers’ first language is not English, but appears most acute in Chinatown.

There, half of workers surveyed were paid less than minimum wage, over 3/4 were not paid overtime, and 42 percent were denied any meal or rest breaks. That breaks down into $8 million in lost or stolen wages in Chinatown alone, according to organizer Shaw San Liu, compared to about $460,000 in back wages paid by employers to their stiffed workers.

It’s not just restaurants, either — “construction, retail, caregiving industries and more,” Liu said. “San Francisco can do better with limited resources for effective and timely enforcement of labor laws.”

A City Hall rally scheduled for tomorrow is intended to raise awareness and keep folks in the know about labor standards. Campos’s legislation should be scheduled for its first hearing sometime in the next month.

Under Campos’s legislation, the penalty for employer retaliation is doubled from $500 per employee to $1,000. A new penalty of $500 for not posting minimum wage standards in the appropriate languages is introduced, and the maximum penalty imposed on an employer for wage theft would be doubled to $10,000.

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