KTVU and Bay City News — SF Chinatown Food Workers Get Thousands in Back Pay

Several workers at a now-defunct Chinese restaurant received long awaited back pay Thursday after the cash from a minimum wage settlement was delivered into their hands.

The checks, enclosed in red Chinese New Year gift envelopes, ranged from $8,000 to $23,000. Representatives from the city attorney’s office and the office of labor standards enforcement were in Chinatown to see through the final phase of a two-year legal battle. Alex Tom, campaign coordinator with Chinese Progressive Action, said the recipients were like many who toil behind the scenes in city restaurants who oftentimes get cheated out of pay because they’re older, monolingual and oftentimes first-generation immigrants. The workers, who handled much of the food preparation, food processing, janitorial and dish-washing duties at the King Tin Restaurant, thanked city officials for their persistence. “They’re usually the least represented and the least compensated in the restaurant industry,” Tom said of the workers. “These employers thought they could get away with it.” Kong Tang and Kai Yuen Ng, co-owners of the bankrupt King Tin Restaurant, routinely worked their employees up to 100 hours a week and only compensated them with a monthly sum that fell far short of the minimum wage, according to an investigation completed by the San Francisco office of labor standards enforcement. The settlement was part of a companion suit filed by the city attorney’s office in conjunction with a state labor commission lawsuit. It was the first of its kind since voters approved a minimum wage increase to $8.50 in January 2004. King Tin Restaurant had been in business at 826 Washington St. for about 20 years before closing in July 2004 when employees began complaining about wage violations. Shortly afterward, the corporation running the restaurant made a partial back payment to its employees and then filed bankruptcy, according to the city attorney’s office. Investigators, however, added up the back wages and found that the restaurant still owed seven employees, many who don’t speak English, up to $68,000. San Francisco’s minimum wage law allows attorneys to procure back wages even though a company successfully files for bankruptcy. The settlement also includes $17,000 in interest. The Chinese Progressive Association assisted in the city’s investigation, according to the city attorney’s office. “Minimum wage cheats don’t merely hurt working men and women by withholding lawful wages — they also corrupt the marketplace by competing unfairly with honest businesses that obey the law,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “I’m honored to have worked to successfully resolve this case along with the Chinese Progressive Association, for its outreach to the community; with the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, for its leadership on the case; and with the workers from King Tin Restaurant, who bravely stood for justice.”