SF supervisors propose wage theft law

May 12, 2011 7:32:03 PM PDT
San Francisco supervisors are considering a new law to protect worker's wages and benefits. Advocates say workers in a number of industries are being denied their legal due.

There is a staggering statistic coming out of San Francisco's Chinatown from the Chinese Progressive Association. They say one out of every two workers there in 2010 made less than the legal minimum wage. However, the problem is not limited to Chinatown or just the restaurant business.

More than a dozen workers' rights groups rallied at San Francisco City Hall in support of a proposed law to crack down on employers who ignore labor laws. It's called the "Wage Theft" law because it's about workers who are paid below the legal minimum or are denied wages for hours they work.

"It comes in the form of not being paid overtime, not receiving breaks, not being paid at all in some instances, and many other things that are unlawful, work off the clock, they're told to clock out and told to do other duties and not paid for it," said Tiffany Crain from Young Workers United.

Norma Sanchez says the Noe Valley restaurant where she's worked for 10 years cut back her hours when she asked to be paid for sick time. She didn't want to say the name of the restaurant.

"I do feel helpless because I know if I claim my rights, I would get fired right away," said an interpreter for Sanchez.

Supervisors Eric Mar and David Campos have authored the Wage Theft bill. The San Francisco progressive alliance says it's a $30 billion problem nationally. Last year, in San Francisco $560,000 was recovered for workers industries from construction to retail.

The Wage Theft law would allow the city to cite employers for failing to post the minimum wage, be cited immediately for an offense -- instead of the current 10 days later -- and increase the retaliation penalty from $500 to $1,000.

"This legislation, that has been introduced is week, is going to strengthen the enforcement and give more tools to the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement," said Crain.

Young Workers United put together a guide to some San Francisco restaurants where workers report good working conditions. Among them is the Arizmendi Bakery -- which just happens to be a co-op.

"I kind of feel like big business is more about profit, more about the bottom line and we're more about taking care of ourselves and making sure that we're supporting our community every way we can," said Celia Sagastume from the Arizmendi Bakery.

Of course, it's not just about big business. There was a hearing at City Hall after the rally Thursday, where there was not a single opposition speaker. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association says while they have not read every word of the ordinance, they do strongly support the principal saying that everyone should be playing by the same rules.

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