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Beverly Hills luxury restaurant Urasawa cited for worker exploitation and wage theft
KIWA and organizations citywide demand celebrity sushi chef Urasawa pay stolen wages
Los Angeles, CA, March 14, 2013 – 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.”
To call attention to Urasawa’s illegal labor practices and the issue of wage theft in all of greater Los Angeles, KIWA is holding a press conference with workers and supporters on:
- Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:00 a.m.
- Location: At the northeast corner of Wilshire Blvd. and N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
- Speakers (list in formation): Alexandra Suh (KIWA), Heriberto Zamora (former Urasawa worker), Kevin Kish (Bet Tzedek), Victor Narro (UCLA Downtown Labor Center)
The group is demanding that Urasawa pay all wages and penalties owed to Zamora and commit to complying with labor laws. As part of a broader campaign to fight wage theft in L.A. and California, KIWA is also asking the City of Los Angeles to pass the Wage Theft Ordinance and is working for the adoption of a statewide wage lien as a tool to ensure compliance with existing labor laws. To this end, the organization encourages the general public and in particular Urasawa customers to sign the online petition at kiwa.org.
Interviews available with:
- Heriberto Zamora, former Urasawa worker: On the day of the press conference: Thursday, March 14, 2013
- KIWA’s Executive Director Alexandra Suh at anytime
- Kevin Kish, Employment Rights Project Director, Bet Tzedek
- Victor Narro, Project Director, UCLA Downtown Labor Center
Video and photo opportunity available at press conference:
- Latino and Korean immigrant workers (including Zamora and all other speakers), KIWA members and representatives of partner organizations at Two Rodeo Drive. Participants will have Korean drums, giant puppets (more than three yards tall) and other colorful props for “guerilla street theater.”
- Individual photos of Ms. Suh and Mr. Zamora.
Founded in 1992, KIWA builds the power of low-wage immigrant workers for dignity and respect in the workplace and community. KIWA serves more than 5,000 workers, tenants and families each year throughout Los Angeles. KIWA’s work includes 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.