FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 17th, 2021
Tiffany Louie, Chinese Progressive Association
Lande Watson, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Workers at Popular Chinatown Restaurant Win $1.61 Million in Massive Wage Theft Settlement
Victory Stands Out in an Industry Known for Undercutting Workers
SF Restaurant Workers Highlight Good Jobs and Fair Pay as Essential to Pandemic Recovery
SAN FRANCISCO –– Twenty-two servers, bussers, cooks, and other kitchen staff at Z & Y, a Chinatown restaurant on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list, won a settlement of $1.61 million for stolen wages, tips, penalties and interest, joining a wave of low-income, immigrant workers standing up for their rights and an equitable restaurant industry in the Bay Area.
Chinese immigrant workers announced the settlement after organizing for more than three years to recover stolen wages from the owners of Z & Y Restaurant, Jun Yuan “Michelle” Zhang and Li Jun Han. The settlement covers unpaid minimum wages, overtime, stolen tips, split shift premiums, paid sick leave amounts, and related penalties. It requires the restaurant owners to implement a fair and transparent tip distribution policy and provide training on paid work time for workers and management on applicable workplace rights. Additionally, five Z & Y worker leaders won a second settlement of $70,000 for retaliation they experienced after raising concerns around wage theft. As a part of that settlement, all staff at the restaurant will see new fair scheduling practices, bilingual employee manuals, and a corrective posting that retaliation is unlawful. Restaurant owners, Ms. Zhang and Mr. Han, agreed that if they fail to make the scheduled payments, their total liability is set at $2 million, and this amount is guaranteed by a deed of trust for that amount, on a San Francisco residential property owned by the defendants.
“This was my first job in the United States. I worked hard to earn my living and supported my employer to build her business,” said Jayden Zhou. “My coworkers and I often chose to grit our teeth and stay quiet, until we couldn’t tolerate it anymore, and we came together to fight for what we were owed. Putting your head down and silently suffering is not a solution to wage theft. By coming together and standing up bravely, we won our rights. I hope this case sends a clear message to employers that they must follow the law.”
In San Francisco and across the state, restaurant workers are calling attention to fair pay and equal rights as foundational to an equitable economic recovery from a pandemic in which workers risked their lives to keep businesses afloat, feed community members, and support their own families. As California reopens and Delta variant cases rise, workers face new challenges on the job around safety, short staffing, limited hours and low wages in an industry also known for high levels of wage theft. These challenges are underscored in a recent report by Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at the University of California at Berkeley that includes a survey of over 600 workers who made take out meals, provided home health care, or cleaned schools, homes, and hospitals during the pandemic. One in five survey respondents reported being paid less than the minimum wage, more than two-thirds of those paid below minimum wage received no information on what to do if sick or exposed to COVID-19, and many were left to enforce health and safety guidelines on their own, facing retaliation or harassment for raising concerns.
“I worked hard and enjoyed my work. Despite this, my boss would take our tips and treat us with disrespect. I knew I had to do something different,” shared Mr. Huang (pseudonym), who worked as a server for Z & Y for over seven years. “After our boss knew that we were taking collective action, she was furious and began to cut our hours, give us the hardest shifts, like the closing shifts, and even fired employees. Retaliation is so common because many immigrant workers don’t know their rights. We need to ensure a safe workplace and protection from retaliation, especially during this pandemic, when restaurant workers have to interact with customers and may be scared to speak up. I hope that other workers will hear our story and learn and protect their rights.”
Inspired by immigrant workers who called out wage theft at Kome Japanese Seafood Buffet in Daly City, Z & Y workers came forward in 2018 about abuses in their workplace. With support from the Chinese Progressive Association and Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, who also supported the Kome workers, Z & Y restaurant employees filed a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner’s Bureau of Field Enforcement.
The employer has promised to pay amounts in excess of $1.61 million to settle the citation, lawsuit and individual tip claims. The separate retaliation settlement addresses five claims filed by worker leaders after the employer cut their hours or fired them after they had raised questions about the restaurant’s wage and hour practices. This comes after workers staged protests at Z & Y and demanded that employers follow the law.
“Restaurant workers deserve workplaces that follow the law and pay a fair wage — that was true during the pandemic as they risked COVID-19 infection to help feed their communities, and it is true now as we pursue an inclusive and equitable recovery, ” said Shaw San Liu, Executive Director at the Chinese Progressive Association. “Chinatown workers are the backbone of our community, and as our community rebuilds amidst the ongoing pandemic and anti-Asian racism, we need good wages, quality and affordable housing, and physical and mental wellness to build a healthy and thriving community.”
Over the past four years, with support from community organizations and the state labor agency, immigrant workers in the Bay Area have won back over $10.5 million in stolen wages and mobilized thousands of workers and community members for good jobs and fair pay at restaurants like Kome, Rangoon Ruby, Mango Garden, and La Taqueria.
“This settlement shows that even in the wake of a pandemic, workers can demand and win back the wages they’re owed for work performed, and accountability for the retaliation they’ve faced,” said Winifred Kao, senior counsel at the Asian Law Caucus. “As we reopen and rebuild the restaurant industry, we need to do better than a pre-pandemic status quo that was rife with wage theft and other workplace abuses. Our new normal must fully embrace workers’ rights, including fair pay, true health and safety compliance, and meaningful anti-retaliation enforcement.”
About Chinese Progressive Association
Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) is a nonprofit that educates, organizes and empowers the low-income and working class immigrant Chinese community in San Francisco to demand better living and working conditions and justice for all people. CPA has been organizing with workers in San Francisco’s Chinese immigrant community since the 1970s. CPA’s Tenant Worker Center programs include wage theft case support, hospitality job training program, community education and outreach, grassroots leadership development and policy advocacy.
About Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Asian Law Caucus (ALC) was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first legal and civil rights organization focusing on the needs of low-income, immigrant and underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Recognizing that social, economic, political, and racial inequalities continue to exist in the United States, ALC is committed to the pursuit of equality and justice for all sectors of our society.