Chinese Progressive Association
For Immediate Release: 7 June 2018
- Shaw San Liu
Kome Seafood Buffet Workers Demand that Owners Comply Immediately with Labor Commissioner’s $5.16 Million Citation
Investigation reveals wage theft of 130 immigrant workers
Daly City, CA – Wage theft, which includes paying below the California minimum wage standards, unpaid overtime pay, shift split premium pay, and other labor law violations, is at the heart of a $5.16 million citation issued this week by the California Labor Commissioner to employers at Kome Japanese Seafood Buffet in Daly City. The citation includes wages and penalties owed to 130 current and former employees for three years of wage theft violations, as well as civil penalties. The citation follows a year-long investigation by the Labor Commissioner’s office, and a campaign organized by Kome workers with the Chinese Progressive Association to demand an end to wage theft and respect for workers.
The courageous immigrant workers of the Kome organizing campaign include servers, bussers and kitchen workers who are also parents, heads of households, and part-time students. Many have resorted to working multiple jobs including driving for Uber to make ends meet, to raise their families and pursue their dreams in one of the most expensive and economically polarized regions of the country.
“Our hard work is at the foundation of Kome’s success; yet we don’t earn enough to support our own living,” said Chiu Ping Tam, a worker leader who has worked as a server at Kome for 5 years. “Many immigrant workers don’t know their rights, or are afraid to speak up, but I have learned that we must speak up. Immigrant workers rights should be respected. We call for the owners of Kome to pay the citation in full, immediately.”
In addition to minimum wage and overtime violations, workers’ tips were illegally confiscated, they were not provided paid sick time per state law, workers routinely experienced disrespect, verbal abuse, unfair treatment, and were not provided healthcare or other benefits.
“Prior to the labor investigation, we kitchen staff worked six days a week for 9-11 hours a day,” said Yuan Ming Gong, a kitchen worker at Kome for over six years and father of two. “When holidays approached, we worked extra long days and had to miss weekends and celebrations with our families. It was really unfair that regardless of how many days or hours we worked, we were paid the same monthly salary with no overtime pay. On top of that, we endured verbal abuse and yelling at the whim of the kitchen manager.”
Last summer, when the CA Labor Commissioner’s Bureau of Field Enforcement (BOFE) began an investigation into labor practices at Kome, workers decided to take action. They began organizing to demand an end to wage theft and for respect and dignity in their workplace with the support of the Chinese Progressive Association.
“I decided to join my coworkers and speak out, because our communities deserve better,” said Ms. Li, who has worked at Kome for the past three years. “Like most of my coworkers, I have to work multiple jobs because my job at Kome is not enough to support me and my family. I have to worry about rent and how to make sure that I’m giving my daughter the best opportunities possible for growing up here. It weighs on me that because of the current conditions, and even with two jobs, that I might just be breaking even. Because of wage theft, I cannot provide the opportunities I want for my daughter.”
Over the past year, Kome workers have taken collective actions to urge Kome owners to cooperate with the labor agency investigation, reform past practices, and become responsible employers. Instead of taking positive steps, Kome management reduced workers’ shifts, changed company policies, threatened workers, and even terminated a worker.
“It is unacceptable for employers like Kome to exploit immigrant communities to amass wealth,” said Shaw San Liu, Organizing Director at the Chinese Progressive Association. “As owners of multiple restaurants including Tomi’s Buffet in San Jose and Concord, Kome owners have a lot at stake. We call on Kome owners to reform and become responsible employers who contribute to our immigrant communities.”
The restaurant industry is a key employer in the Bay Area and throughout California. While low-wage jobs and wage theft are widespread, there are also many employers who treat workers with respect and provide good jobs. Community-based organizations like Chinese Progressive Association, Asian Law Caucus, Young Workers United and Restaurant Opportunities Center have been working to educate workers about their rights, lift standards in the industry and support responsible employers.
“In this moment, where workers, immigrants, and communities of color are facing attacks on all fronts, it is all the more inspiring that Kome workers are asserting their workplace rights, despite their fears,” says Winnie Kao, Litigation Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (ALC), who has provided legal support for the workers’ campaign. “They join a growing movement of Bay Area workers fighting for fair, healthy and safe workplaces with dignity and respect.”