Workers press wage theft complaint

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Photo by Antonia Woodford.

After failing to reach an agreement with the restaurateur they claim owes them $23,000 in unpaid wages, former workers at Cafe Goodfellas and their supporters have gone back to the picket line.

Over 30 labor activists, workers and students protested outside Cafe Goodfellas, an Italian restaurant on State Street on Wednesday afternoon, calling for a boycott of the eatery. Goodfellas, which has been investigated by the Connecticut Department of Labor for labor violations six times since 2007, is coming under fire again by the New Haven Workers Association, said Megan Fountain, a member of the group. But Gennaro Iannaccone, the owner of the restaurant, said the workers are trying to “intimidate” him into paying them more than they deserve.

Over 30 labor activists gathered Wednesday to protest Cafe Goodfellas’ alleged mistreatment of its employees.
Over 30 labor activists gathered Wednesday to protest Cafe Goodfellas’ alleged mistreatment of its employees.

Four former employees of Goodfellas are seeking $23,636 in compensation for not being paid minimum wage or overtime when they worked at the restaurant in late 2009 and early 2010, Fountain said. The workers have filed complaints with the state and federal departments of labor, officials at those agencies confirmed, and after picketing the restaurant every week since December, they sat down to negotiate with owner Gennaro Iannaccone in March, she said.

After three rounds of negotiations, Iannaccone agreed to pay the workers a slightly smaller sum, $19,600, he and Fountain confirmed.

But according to Fountain, Iannacone did not hold up his end of the deal.

“He showed up with checks amounting to $4,961 and said that the rest he was taking out in taxes and sending to the IRS,” she said. “Well, that seems to be a lie, because as far as I understand, he never had the workers fill out a W-2 form. This was a mockery of the negotiations.”

The workers rejected the money, and at the conclusion of a U.S. Department of Labor investigation, Iannacone sent the agency slightly over $10,000 to be distributed among the workers, he and Fountain said. The workers again rejected the sum.

“That is still less than 45 percent of what the workers are owed,” Fountain said. She added that the workers are no longer willing to compromise and intend to boycott the restaurant until they are paid in full.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Iannaccone insisted that he had done nothing wrong. He said that, through the U.S. Department of Labor, he paid the workers a total of $19,000, but that the amount went down to around $10,000 due to tax deductions.

“[The workers] didn’t pick up the checks or accept them, because they don’t want to pay taxes,” Iannaccone said.

John Chavez, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Labor, said he could not confirm the amount offered to the workers because the case is still open. He said that the workers have a right to decline the money, but that his department would not conduct a second investigation.

“The wage and hour division [of the Department of Labor] has done what it has done, which is to do an investigation and collect back wages [from Iannaccone] and try to give them the back wages,” Chavez said. “If they reject that, that’s pretty much it in terms of what the U.S. Department of Labor can do for them.”

Chavez added that if the workers chose to file a private lawsuit, his department could hold onto the checks from Iannaccone, so that they could “fall back” on that money if they did not win in court.

The workers have also filed complaints with the Connecticut Department of Labor, which are still being investigated, said Nancy Steffens, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Labor.

In the meantime, the New Haven Workers Association has renewed its calls for a boycott, Fountain and John Lugo, another member of the association, said.

“[Iannacconne] cannot play any longer with the workers,” Lugo said to the assembled crowd on Wednesday. “This is an injustice, and it cannot happen.”

The protest drew a range of New Haven residents, including students from Wilbur Cross High School, students from Yale, and the Frontline Soldiers, a local “fraternity” whose members say they try to help the local community.

“I think it’s horrible what Goodfellas is doing to their workers,” said Alan Williams, a senior at Wilbur Cross. “Hopefully this can scare them enough to pay up.”

Stefferns confirmed that the Connecticut labor department conducted five previous investigations of Goodfellas from 2008 to 2010, and that in 2007 the department fined the restaurant $9,300 for various labor violations, which included paying less than minimum wage and not keeping proper time records. This fine was later reduced to $1,200.

Chavez said that the U.S. Department of Labor previously investigated Goodfellas in 2009, ultimately requiring the payment of $7,000 in wage compensation to three kitchen workers.

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