Workers, labor activists, local residents and Yalies gathered on State Street Saturday to protest a restaurant they claim owes workers over $23,000 in overtime and unpaid wages.
The demonstrators formed a moving picket line on the sidewalk in front of Café Goodfellas, waving signs and chanting, “Workers’ rights, under attack! What do we do? [Pause] Fight back!”
The protest was the latest of several demonstrations organized by the New Haven Workers Association, a local advocacy group, in response to workers’ complaints of wage theft and discrimination in New Haven businesses. In what is the fourth complaint brought against Goodfellas in the past year, they have accused the restaurant of withholding thousands in pay from four employees, said Chris Garaffa, a member of the New Haven Workers Association.
Managers at Café Goodfellas did not respond to multiple phone and e-mail requests for comment.
Former Goodfellas employees attended the protest to show solidarity with the workers currently seeking compensation, they said. Emily Gallagher, a former waitress and bartender at Goodfellas, said the workers’ complaints resonated with her own experiences.
“When I started there in 2005, these issues were already happening,” she said. “Workers were not being paid for overtime, and paychecks were bouncing routinely.”
Luis Luna, who worked as a waiter at Goodfellas in 2007 and at another restaurant, Tenderloin in Branford, Conn., under the same management, said his paychecks would bounce back whenever he tried to cash them. “I did get my money from tips, but the checks would always bounce back,” he said. Luna added that he felt discriminated against because the managers would relegate him to serving tables only at the back of the restaurant.
Having staged previous demonstrations against Goodfellas in December that failed to elicit concessions from the restaurant, the group is now calling for a boycott, Garaffa said.
“[The owners] have threatened us with a fire extinguisher, they’ve called the police on us multiple times, but we are exercising our first amendment rights,” Garaffa said in an address to media during the rally. “The boycott is a very effective, direct action we can take.”
The workers also marched in defiance of what they saw as past attempts by the police to discourage their activism.
When six workers picketed Goodfellas on Dec. 31, a policeman told them he would write up a report that restaurants could use to blacklist them and bar them from future employment, said John Lugo, a member of the New Haven Workers Association, who participated in both protests. The police also threatened to arrest them if they did not have a permit, Lugo said, though afterward he confirmed with City Hall that a permit was not required.
“We won’t put up with police harassment of workers and employees,” said Garaffa, who was also at the Dec. 31 protest.
NHPD spokesman Joseph Avery could not immediately be reached for contact.
Yale students and New Haven residents alike were also drawn to Saturday’s demonstration.
“This is an opportunity for Yale students to stand in solidarity with New Haven workers,” said Cody Hooks ’13. “I think too often that link is avoided; too often Yalies aren’t willing to take concrete civil disobedient action.”
James Cersonsky ’11 agreed that student action was important in showing support. “Not only is student turnout something that can be very powerful in terms of resolving these issues, but also it can be empowering and illuminating for students,” he said, adding that engaging with people other than students has given him a greater understanding of New Haven.
Paula Panzarella, a New Haven resident, said she decided to participate when she learned workers were being denied pay. “The establishment is taking advantage of people, especially immigrant workers,” she said.
Gallagher added, “This is not an immigration issue, this is not a race issue, it’s a workers’ issue.”
Goodfellas opened at 758 State St. in 2005.