SF Chronicle – Workers win $2.6 million wage theft settlement with Bay Area restaurant

More than 130 restaurant workers have won a $2.6 million settlement from former employer Kome Japanese Seafood Buffet in Daly City, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations.

The settlement announced this week comes after a yearslong struggle between workers and the restaurant. In June 2018, the state Labor Commissioner’s Office investigated worker complaints at Kome, which resulted in a citation for wage theft and a total fine of $5.16 million. The owners appealed the citation, and a hearing was held in March 2019.

“Servers are liars — they always want more, they want more money,” David Leung, an owner of Kome, told The Chronicle before appealing.

The violations include failure to pay minimum wage, overtime and split-shift premiums. The restaurant also included a service charge on the bill, and officials said it had illegally applied the money collected to the workers’ minimum wage instead of distributing it in tips.

“These workers have waited a long time for the wages they earned,” said California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower in a press release. “This settlement puts that money back in their pockets and is a testament to these workers standing up for their rights.”

In December, the Labor Commissioner’s Office fined the restaurant an additional $60,000 in unpaid wages and penalties for retaliating against former employee Chris Liu, who said he had assisted the commissioner’s inspection efforts.

In January 2019, the seafood buffet closed without notice.

The 133 workers, including cooks, dishwashers, servers and hosts, will receive money meant to account for the violations, as well as money owed for closing the restaurant without proper notice. The settlement payments range from $20 to $47,253 with an average of $14,217 per worker, according to the Department of Industrial Relations.

“I was treated unfairly many times, and that anger helped me conquer my fears. As a result, I joined the organizing efforts and learned that with unity comes protection for all of us,” Chiu Ping Tam, a former Kome server, said in a press release.

“Our communities deserve and desperately need workplaces that follow the law, respect, and pay a fair wage to immigrant workers — now more than ever,” said Joyce Lam, political director at the Chinese Progressive Association, the nonprofit that represented many of the workers involved in the investigation. “This is a difficult moment for the restaurant industry — we know that workers are the backbone of the industry’s success and will be key to the industry’s recovery.”

Danielle Echeverria is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: danielle.echeverria@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @DanielleEchev

Reporter: Danielle Echeverria, August 14, 2020

Link: https://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/Workers-win-2-6-million-wage-theft-settlement-15482120.php?cmpid=gsa-sfgate-result