KIWA and organizations citywide demand celebrity sushi chef Urasawa pay stolen wages
Beverly Hills restaurant Urasawa, owned by famed sushi chef Hiroyuki Urasawa, has been cited by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for labor law violations involving wage theft: the illegal underpayment or withholding of wages that employees have earned. Specifically, the citations are for failure to pay overtime wages, failure to provide employees with meal and rest breaks and failure to provide wage statements required by law.
Urasawa is known for running the most expensive eatery in Los Angeles (second-most expensive in the United States), where he charges hundreds of dollars per plate. But the restaurant routinely breaks multiple labor laws and denies employees their basic rights. Urasawa’s luxurious Two Rodeo Drive address and celebrity clientele stand in stark contrast to its exploitation of low-income workers.
Last June, the chef abruptly fired employee Heriberto Zamora when Zamora asked to go home after working for several days, and nine hours into his shift, preparing food with a severe flu and high fever. “I was expected to handle the raw fish while I was sick and coughing,” said Zamora, who began working for Urasawa as a 17-year-old. In addition to subjecting his customers, who usually pay a minimum of $400 each for an exclusive dinner, to alarming health hazards, Urasawa stole his worker’s wages. For more than five years, Zamora worked reliably, usually for more than 11 hours a day. But when he was fired and his final paycheck withheld, the Koreatown resident turned to KIWA (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance) for help. After Zamora filed his wage claim with the State of California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, the agency also opened a field investigation into the restaurant. Even though Urasawa was cited by the agency, Zamora is still waiting for payment of the wages he is owed.
KIWA’s executive director, Alexandra Suh, explains, “Chef Urasawa’s actions are not an isolated incident; wage theft is common all over the L.A. region and throughout the nation.” In a comprehensive study, UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment found that Los Angeles is the wage-theft capital of the country with violations averaging $26 million per week or $1.4 billion per year – more than in New York City or Chicago. Currently state, federal and local governments investigate and adjudicate claims but resources for enforcement remain inadequate.
“Workers in low-wage industries are most exposed to wage theft and exploitation,” said Victor Narro, Project Director at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center. “Governor Brown signed the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2010 into law, but agencies like the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement lack resources and tools for enforcement. This is where organizations such as KIWA come in; they help bring justice about for low-wage workers.”
Read more about KIWA’s fight against Urasawa here