SF Gate — Long Overdue Paychecks

WITH ONE ACT of courage and defiance, five Chinese Americans have set a precedent for thousands of immigrant workers.

For six months, more than 30 employees at San Francisco’s historic Golden Dragon restaurant in Chinatown went without a paycheck, living off tips and a promise that their hourly wages would come “later.”

The employees said nothing, until one of them approached the Chinese Progressive Association. The immigrant advocacy group then worked to organize the workers and urged them to fight back.

Many of the documented workers were fearful of retaliation and backed out of several planned walkouts and protests — until last Sunday. On that night, five workers, including Raymond Yuen, who had worked there for three years, protested in front of the restaurant, forcing the owners to come out and negotiate.

On Wednesday, the workers picked up their checks, receiving collectively more than $12,000 in back wages. The owners, Jack Lee and his wife, Big Hong Ng, have promised the remaining 25 workers that they will be paid as well.

Unpaid wages is a major problem in immigrant communities, where workers are fearful of retaliation and are not aware of their rights in the workplace. In San Francisco alone, 60 percent of low-wage workers are immigrants. And, according to 2000 census data, 11,728 Chinese workers were employed in the restaurant industry.

“In China, there are many abusive workplaces, where employees are scared. These businesses are not regulated by the government, and they are free to just close down or declare bankruptcy,” said Leon Chow, chairman of the association. “When they come to America, they assume the regulations are just as low.”

Unfortunately, so do the workers.

Raymond Yuen, Yue Hua Mai, Li Chan Huang, Yat You Lam and Min Shan Liu have sent a strong message to restaurant workers everywhere.

Their message should bring hope and resolve for immigrant workers in San Francisco and elsewhere who are not getting the wages they have earned.

Link: Long Overdue Paychecks