Updated 11/19/2009 03:52 PM
State Labor Dept. Finds Park Slope Restaurants Underpaid Workers
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The State Labor Department released a report today that says 25 Brooklyn restaurants and cafes owe at least $910,000 in unpaid wages to more than 200 workers.
State inspections of Park Slope restaurants during the spring found that some workers made as little as $2.75 an hour, which is far below the state minimum wage of $7.25.
Of the 25 cases involving 207 workers, 12 restaurants paid back the wages while 13 other restaurants are still in negotiations to pay back the wages.
Some of the worst violations involved delivery workers, who earned $210 to $275 a week for 60 to 70 hours of work.
Most of the involved workers were immigrants.
"Do you think that customers very often think about whether the waitress or busboy is getting their tips, or when they go into their local dry cleaner, whether the person behind the counter is getting paid the minimum wage," said State Labor Commissioner Patricia Smith. “So today... I’d like to ask all New Yorkers, I’d like to ask all Park Slopers to take a moment and think in your day about this.”
While he wouldn't go on camera, manager Arthur Pereira at Baluchi's said he paid back several hundred dollars after four of his workers were interviewed. He said while he doesn't dismiss the law, the workers were interviewed in Spanish and Chinese, and he does not know what inspectors were told.
Officials say a host of reasons stop many underpaid workers from stepping forward.
"They often have limited English-speaking capacity and are afraid if they lose this job they might not get another job," said Smith. "They're low-wage workers, and therefore they're low-skilled, so even more frightened of losing their jobs and the economic situation is only making that worse."
State labor officials also urge workers and employers to be vigilant and call the Labor Department with any complaints.
Some Park Slope residents were disappointed to find their favorite restaurants were on the list.
"It makes me sick and they should they obviously need to be penalized and start paying their workers what they are worth," said one resident.
"It's a popular neighborhood for dining out of home, so it's not that they are not lacking or I would think they are not lacking the funds," said another.
"If they make restitution, that's fine. But if they continue these practices, I don't think we'll use those establishments anymore," said a third.
According to state law, food service workers are supposed to earn $4.65 per hour, while other service workers have a minimum rate of $5.50 per hour. These lower wage rates incorporate tips, but employers cannot expect workers to only work for tips.
The following restaurants are negotiating a resolution for payment:
Aunt Suzie's Restaurant
Bogota Latin Bistro
Marcho Corp's Cholita
Olive Vine Cafe (two locations)
The following restaurants have made full or partial payments:
Mezcali's Mexican (three locations)
Red Hot Szechuan
Slim Lamb "Miracle Grill"
Sweet Melissa Park Slope