After the arrest of Chung Cho, Gourmet Heaven’s owner, for first degree larceny, wage theft, workplace discrimination and retaliation, among other infractions, the New Haven Superior Court ordered him to pay $120,000 in minimum wage and overtime owed to current and former workers.
Although the judge could have sentenced Cho to 145 years in prison, she put him on probation and promised to wipe the charges clean as soon as he paid.
Yet four months later, the workers still have not seen one penny of those wages and Cho is free.
Last Friday, University Properties announced that GHeav is now under new ownership. Both its Broadway and Whitney locations will remain open, now with a new name: Good Nature Market. Business, UP says, will continue as usual.
The announcement brought home even more clearly what has been true for far too long: GHeav may have a new name and owner, but we do not know if UP has changed its policies to prevent exploitation in our city.
Over the past year, MEChA, a student social justice organization, has worked closely with former GHeav employees and Unidad Latina en Acción, the workers’ rights organization to which they belong.
In this time span, we have repeatedly asked UP to demonstrate how they plan to ensure this form of economic exploitation is not repeated.
In response, they have dragged their feet and not shown any substantive shifts in policy.
Not only has UP taken no action to see that former GHeav employees are paid what they are owed, but without contractual oversight, this same scenario will likely repeat itself.
In fact, Good Nature Market is a crime waiting to happen: By maintaining the same 24-hour business model, the “new” deli is just a replica of the poor working conditions that helped sustain wage theft at Gourmet Heaven, where workers were paid as little as $4 an hour, weren’t paid overtime despite a 72-hour workweek and faced daily threats meant to keep them “awake.”
Yale needs to show commitment to its principles, and realize they are responsible for what happens on their own property.
The University’s treatment of GHeav has been a case study in how wage crimes are allowed to go unpunished.
Mayor Toni Harp said much the same when she called the Yale’s handling of GHeav “embarrassing” last March.
Last July, UP Director Lauren Zucker and Vice President Bruce Alexander met with former GHeav workers, members of ULA and MEChA. In that meeting, we presented proposals to prevent wage crimes.
These included a partnership between UP and the Connecticut Department of Labor to inspect all businesses on University Properties for labor law compliance, changing the terms of UP leases to stipulate lease termination for labor law violation or supporting sustainable business models such as worker-owned cooperatives like those successfully operating at other universities.
UP seemed to be listening at the time — I would really like to think that they were. Yet their surprise announcement last week would suggest the opposite.
Since I arrived on campus freshmen year, I have been told again and again that Yale is a community of people that look out for each other.
And yet the school obviously does not consider these workers to be part of its community, nor worth its consideration.
Yale has its own police force, and the entire school gets an email informing us whenever a fellow student is robbed walking somewhere.
Yet we’re never told when employees at UP-leased businesses, who are just as much members of this community as I am, are robbed of much, much greater amounts of money.
We need to call things by their correct names. In class, I learn about the sweatshop labor of the 19th century, how workers were grossly underpaid or not paid at all. Wage theft is the same thing, and it’s happening right now, a minute walk away from my college.
Yale needs to review the facts. By not acting, they are enabling labor crimes to happen, and setting a precedent in which wage theft is part and parcel of UP policy.
This University must work to prevent the outright robbery involved in sweatshop labor.
They must make sure everyone on campus knows that everyone — students and employees — is part of this community.
As students, we have to continue to pressure the administration to make the needed changes. Business will not continue as usual until what is “usual” is the same as what is just.
Ava Tomasula y Garcia is a sophomore in Calhoun College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .