The problem of wage theft -- employers who dont pay their workers federal minimum wage or for overtime -- mostly hits the ranks of lower-income workers.
This issue has particularly affected restaurant workers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, which stepped up enforcement about two years ago, adding 200 more agents to handle the issue.
Earnings in the restaurant industry have also lagged behind that of the entire private sector, according to a book, Behind the Kitchen Door: Pervasive Inequality in New York Citys Thriving Restaurant Industry. In terms of annual earnings, restaurant workers on average made only $19,632 in 2000, compared to $46,654 in the private sector, a gap which increased by 17 percent since 1990, the book states.
Most of the workers surveyed for the book -- 59 percent -- had experienced overtime violations and 13 percent reported minimum wage violations.
Some of these abuses have ended up in court, with restaurant owners owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the workers. Some of these cases include, according to various news releases and published articles:
A U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif. ruled in March against Crazy Buffet Chinese restaurant, awarding 32 employees a total of $201,950 in back pay and an equal amount in liquidated damages. The owner falsified records of time worked, attendance and pay, the court said.
In October 2011, the U.S. DOL found significant violations of federal wage laws at 28 Huddle House restaurants in Georgia, including those in Barnesville, Dublin, Gray, Jeffersonville, Milledgeville and Sandersville. The businesses agreed to pay $48,317 for repeat violations and back wages of more than $60,500 to 128 workers.
A Fayetteville-based restaurant chain, This is It! BBQ and Seafood, was ordered in 2011 to pay $104,000 in back pay to 203 workers at five locations and fined about $1,900 for letting minors work later than allowed by federal law. The employer was deducting uniform expenses and lunch breaks from workers.
More than $1.3 million in back wages were owed to about 500 restaurant employees at 34 popular restaurants in and around Boston in March this year, the DOL found.
A Japanese restaurant chain in Long Island, New York, agreed to pay about $765,000 in February after a DOL lawsuit found the restaurant had violated several wage and hour laws. The restaurant also was ordered to pay $62,622 in penalties and interest.
After 46 Long Island pizza and pasta restaurants were investigated by the DOL, $2.3 million in back wages was recovered for 578 employees at 35 Italian restaurants. The DOL also assessed $202,315 in penalties for willful and repeat violations.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.