This article has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on March 23.
Late last week, a crowd of roughly 50 protesters rallied outside of 116 Crown, a high-end bar in downtown New Haven. Though they came to support one man’s labor complaint, the protestors spoke out against what they see as a greater trend of labor violations in the community.
Organized by local workers’ rights group Unidad Latina en Accion, participants attempted to raise public awareness of a labor complaint from former employee Edgar Sandoval, who worked as a dishwasher at 116 Crown for roughly two years. Sandoval says he was denied over $16,000 of overtime pay during his employment. Labor activists said this complaint is indicative of the wage theft and worker abuse that they believe is rampant in the New Haven community.
Sandoval, who participated in Thursday’s rally, said that even though he worked anywhere from 60 to 100 hours per week, he was paid a flat hourly rate. The state of Connecticut requires employers to grant overtime pay — one and a half times the regular rate of pay — for every hour past the traditional 40-hour work week.
Shortly after being fired from the bar in November, Sandoval was hospitalized with depression, anxiety and high blood pressure. He said the long work hours impacted his physical and mental health.
ULA organizer John Lugo said that soon after this, Sandoval decided to lodge a formal complaint with the Connecticut Department of Labor.
John Ginnetti, Sandoval’s former employer at 116 Crown, did not return a request for comment, but reportedly responded to a letter from ULA on the matter earlier this year.
According to Lugo, Ginnetti stated that Sandoval had, in fact, been salaried and not paid hourly. Ginnetti also said in his response that Sandoval was head of the dishwashing division rather than a regular dishwasher. These two caveats in Connecticut labor laws could allow an employer to forgo overtime pay.
Sandoval said both claims are untrue.
ULA has worked with other workers on similar cases in recent years, including last year’s Gourmet Heaven wage theft case, which resulted in the court ordering owner Chung Cho to pay $140,000 in back wages to the complainants and a $10,000 fine to the DOL. Earlier this month, University Properties announced that Gourmet Heaven would be renamed as Good Nature Market and operate under new ownership. ULA organizers said those wages are still owed.
“Even in 2015, we see people making wages that are from the 1970s or the 1960s,” Lugo said. “We can’t have people making the same wages they made back in 1988.”
This case, and others like it, Lugo said, are indicative of a larger trend of worker abuse in New Haven and across the country.
A 2009 study conducted by Annette Bernhardt — then the Policy Co-Director of the National Employment Law Project — and 10 other policy experts found workplace violations to be severe and widespread in low-wage labor markets, like the food service industry.
Over a quarter of the study’s 4,387 survey respondents — low-wage workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — worked more than 40 hours during the previous week. Of those respondents, 76 percent reported that their employers had not paid the legally required overtime rate.
Lugo said that in addition to Sandoval’s complaint, ULA is now working on reviewing the claims of two unnamed individuals who also claim that Ginnetti stole wages from them when they were employed at 116 Crown.
Sandoval said he has no personal problem with Ginnetti and called him “a good guy.” But he said his former employer had brought issue with the number of hours per week Sandoval claimed to have worked.
“[Ginnetti] didn’t want to pay me because I was saying I was working 65 to 100 hours a week, and he said the restaurant was only open about 60 hours a week. But those are just the business hours. I was always the last one to leave,” said Sandoval.
The Fair Labor Standards Act — the U.S. federal statute that first protected employees from wage theft — was passed in 1938.