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Stop Stealing our Paychecks
How does it feel to go home without pay for your hard work? Or to get your paycheck and realize you’ve been shorted? …when you need that pay now for food and rent… when you are trying to save for your kids’ education because you want their experience to be a little bit easier than yours.

Millions of California and Los Angeles low-wage workers experience wage theft: employers steal an average of 12.5% of low-wage workers’ income every year by paying below the minimum wage, not paying overtime, not providing rest and meal breaks. Los Angeles is the nation’s wage-theft capital, with $26 million being stolen from LA low-wage workers alone every week–that’s nearly $1.4 billion a year. Many workers have to come to work but are not allowed to clock in for an hour or more, and required to stay after to clean and close up off the clock. Many are laid off and never get their paycheck at all. What can we do about it? AB 2416, the statewide Wage Theft Recovery Act, is one solution. The LA City Wage Theft Ordinance is another. Each provides specific tools for low-wage workers to collect pay for work they have already done, and KIWA and allies are moving forward with both.

For 22 years, KIWA’s Worker Empowerment Clinic has assisted workers to file claims with the Labor Commissioner–and they almost never lose their cases. But the vast majority of California workers–statewide only 17%–never collect even one penny of their judgment, after proving before the State of California that their employer did not pay them for their work. And many more feel forced to settle for pennies on the dollar, knowing their hope of recovering their full pay is dismal. In Wisconsin, which has had a wage lien on the books for over a century, over 80% of workers do collect their judgments. California workers also need this tool.

Our wage claims system is broken. Unscrupulous employers transfer money or close and re-open the same business under a new name, or “sell the business to their brother” but keep operating the same shop, cheating even more workers of their pay. We celebrate California’s minimum-wage increase ($9/hr. beginning July 1, 2014 and $10/hr. from Jan. 1, 2016). But what about workers who can’t get the minimum even now? Or get any of their overtime pay?

KIWA and over 30 allies statewide who are part of the California Fair Paycheck Coalition believe that one powerful tool to fix this problem is AB 2416, the Wage Theft Recovery Act. Low-wage workers tired of seeing their pay stolen away, honest business owners seeking a level playing field, worker centers, unions, legal-service providers, policy organizations, and academics have joined forces to stop wage theft. It would allow workers to place a temporary hold (lien) on an employer’s property. The presence of the lien would bring bad-apple employers to the table and act as an incentive for them to do what they should have done in the first place: pay workers for the work they have done. Let’s work together to ensure that money workers earn goes to keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table.

To learn more and get involved, contact KIWA or any of the many organizations in the California Fair Paycheck Coalition or the LA Coalition Against Wage Theft.

Info about the Wage Theft Recovery Act: English Español 한글 Q&A

NELP & UCLA Labor Center’s report on the collections problem: Hollow Victories

UCLA Labor Center’s report on wage theft: Wage Theft and Workplace Violations in LA

Every one of us–our families, neighbors, and coworkers, our polity, our economy, our nation–we all need a just and sensible immigration policy now. February 24, 2014,  KIWA members joined many others to launch the Fast for Families national bus tour.  We call for a path to citizenship for all 11 million and an immediate end to deportations.

 

Saturday, October 5, 2013
Approximately 100 KIWA members, along with thousands of organizations, unions, faith groups, and Los Angeles residents marched through Hollywood for the National Day of Dignity and Respect for Immigrants!

 

July 25, 2013

KIWA Achieves Victory in Raw Deal Actions against Urasawa Restaurant!

 

We are excited to announce that KIWA’s efforts to hold Urasawa Restaurant in Beverly Hills accountable for wage theft have ended successfully this week. Please see press release below for more details.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Beverly Hills luxury restaurant Urasawa settles with former employee in wage theft case

In the wake of anti-wage theft campaign led by KIWA, celebrity sushi chef agrees to pay worker stolen wages.

Los Angeles, CA, July 26, 2013 – Yesterday, after a series of KIWA’s Raw Deal actions against Beverly Hills restaurant Urasawa, the world-famous sushi eatery settled the wage claim case brought against it by former employee Heriberto Zamora.

After being abruptly fired because he was sick, Zamora had sought help at KIWA and then filed his wage claim with the State of California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). The agency then also opened a field investigation into the restaurant. Zamora had subsequently become somewhat of a spokesperson against wage theft, shining a light on low-wage workers’ experiences in what became a story garnering attention nationwide.

In mid-March of this year, Urasawa, owned by famed sushi chef Hiroyuki Urasawa, was cited by the DLSE for labor law violations involving wage theft: the illegal underpayment or withholding of wages that employees have earned. The chef-owner appealed the DLSE’s citations, but a June hearing upheld the decision.

Urasawa is known for running the most expensive restaurant in Los Angeles (second-most expensive in the United States), where he charges hundreds of dollars per plate. But the business was found to routinely break multiple labor laws and deny employees their basic rights. Urasawa’s luxurious Two Rodeo Drive address and celebrity clientele have stood in stark contrast to its exploitation of low-income workers.

KIWA highlighted the abuses at Urasawa and more broadly the issue of rampant wage theft in multiple industries in all of greater Los Angeles. Actions included protests and candle light vigils at Urasawa’s tony Beverly Hills location, demanding the restaurateur pay all wages and penalties owed to his former employee Heriberto Zamora and commit to complying with labor laws. KIWA also appealed to the Beverly Hills City Council and other stakeholders making them aware of the issue.

After waiting for more than a year and just minutes before Zamora’s final case hearing at the Labor Commissioner was set to start yesterday, a settlement agreement between Urasawa and his former employee was reached. “I am relieved and happy that justice has finally prevailed,” said Zamora after the meeting, which included his onetime boss. “It wasn’t easy and I fought for more than a year, but now I can tell all workers: you can demand your rights and win!”

KIWA’s executive director, Alexandra Suh, explains, “That KIWA member Heriberto has reached this settlement with Urasawa is an important step in our organization’s larger campaign against wage theft in Los Angeles, where violations average $26 million per week stolen from low-income families.” She continues, “But we cannot stop here. We will continue to call out bad players, who exploit low-wage workers and we will continue to push for the City of Los Angeles to adopt a Wage Theft Ordinance and work for the passage of the California Fair Pay Check Act (AB 1164) as tools to ensure compliance with existing labor laws.

Interview availability:

Monday, July 29, 2013 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. with:

  • Heriberto Zamora, former Urasawa worker
  • KIWA’s Executive Director
  • Alexandra Suh

About KIWA:

Founded in 1992, KIWA builds the power of immigrant workers and residents to strengthen a progressive grassroots leadership to transform our workplaces and communities. KIWA serves more than 5,000 workers, tenants and families each year throughout Los Angeles. KIWA’s work includes community organizing campaigns, policy advocacy, workers’ and tenants’ rights services, community-led green space projects, affordable housing development, education programs, civic engagement and leadership development. KIWA’s members are mostly Spanish- and Korean-speaking low-income immigrants who live or work in Koreatown and beyond.

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