Employees at a San Francisco dim sum restaurant won big in a $4 million settlement on behalf of workers who had been denied the city’s minimum wage and suffered other labor code violations, California Labor Commission officials announced today.
California Labor Commissioner Julie Su said 280 workers at the Michelin-rated restaurant Yank Sing were paid the state minimum wage of $8 per hour and not San Francisco’s higher minimum wage, which is currently set at $10.74 and is set to increase to $11.05 on Jan. 1.
Management also kept or misdirected approximately $1 million in tips over a four-year period and did not pay employees for all of the hours they worked, Su said.
“This settlement is a win for the workers as well as for the employer who sought a resolution to come into compliance with the state’s labor laws,” Christine Baker, director of the state’s Department of Industrial Relations, said in a statement.
As part of the settlement, the restaurant is also required to implement a business model that provides employees with higher wages, health care benefits and paid vacation time, according to a Yank Sing worker.
“Low-wage workers are often afraid to speak out,” said a Yank Sing employee identified as Mrs. Wu. “But thanks to my co-workers’ unity and collective action, we have made big changes in our workplace.”
Su investigated the violations in partnership with the Chinese Progressive Association, San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement and the Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.
“It was our privilege to work cooperatively with our employees,” Yank Sing co-owner Henry Chan said. “We know we made some mistakes in the past, but we are working hard to ensure our employees have these crucial benefits and strive everyday to constantly improve our workplace.”
Last year, a handful of workers approached the Chinese Progressive Alliance (CPA), a San Francisco-based non-profit organization, to help them launch a workplace campaign to change their employer’s practices, according to CPA spokeswoman Emily Lee.
Within a few months, the handful turned into nearly 100 workers, Lee said.
Chinese Progressive Association organizer Shaw San Liu described the settlement as “unprecedented” and a “win for everyone.”
“This unprecedented agreement is a signal of a new approach for workers and employers to transform working conditions together,” San Liu said. “We call on more employers to follow their leadership, because world-class cuisine should go hand-in-hand with respect and dignity on the job.”
Asian Law Caucus litigation director Winifred Kao said many restaurant workers are scared to challenge their employers.
“The restaurant industry is rife with workplace abuses. Immigrant workers are often particularly vulnerable,” Kao said. “We’re proud to have stood with workers who overcame those barriers and had the courage to stand up and push for change.”
Erin Baldassari, Bay City News