These are some of the restaurants in Long Island investigated by the Federal Department of Labor in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
They filed lawsuits in the Federal District Court, Central Islip, against these restaurants for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments.
These cases resulted in thousands of dollars recovered in back wages for the restaurant workers, most of them Hispanic immigrants.
There are many federal investigations on restaurant employers on Long Island, who deny their workers their legal right to fair payment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), leading to wage and hour violations.
According to Irv Miljoner, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s Long Island District Office director, there are many repeated violators and they investigate the restaurant industry more than any other on Long Island. In the last eight years, they found many violations in the restaurant industry that affect vulnerable workers, many of whom do not speak English as their first language, and may not be aware of their rights as workers.
“They will tell you “it [the restaurant industry] is very competitive” and the employers would say “we can’t pay overtime because nobody else does. If we do, we can’t compete,”” Miljoner said. “So our answer is we have to enforce the law and make sure everyone pays.”
“In this office we have 18 investigators covering Long Island, but there are about 100,000 employers, so we can’t reach everyone,” Miljoner said.
The investigations usually find that the restaurants violate the FLSA by paying low-wage workers straight time wages for every hour worked, instead of overtime, which is one and one-half their regular pay rates for all hours worked past 40 in a workweek. Many employers do not pay the $7.25 minimum wage and also fail to keep the record provisions. Under the FLSA, employers who violate the federal employment law provisions are responsible for paying their workers the full amount of unpaid wages, along with an equal amount in liquidated damages.
According to Roberto Quintana, a Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s Long Island District Office investigator, he hasn’t found a single restaurant in compliance since he started to work in the Long Island area three years ago.
“They are all the same. So, now when I walk into a restaurant, I say to the employer: Are you like everybody else? They pretty much admit it because they feel like is just a normal part of doing the business unfortunately,” Quintana said. “They feel like if they wouldn’t do that, they’ll be at disadvantage.”
Restaurants are the biggest source of complains because it’s so labor intensive, according to Quintana. He says that restaurants are where they find most of problems because it is where the big pool of undocumented workers are.
“They just accept as a case of life that they have to hire them,” said Quintana. “Obviously you can’t keep having this scenario. We can’t have cheap labor and also undocumented workers.”
This is why the Labor Department has an initiative to target restaurants, not only with investigators but with education also. They talk to the Restaurant Association, the accountants and the lawyers who represent them to try to influence them to be part of the solution.
According to Melissa A. Fleischut, the Vice President of New York State Restaurant Association, they hold seminars around the state, at their annual trade show and publish articles as well. They do it to inform their members about the laws and regulations.
“I think the vast majority of restaurants are paying the minimum wage required by law both in Long Island and in New York State,” said Fleischut.