More than 40 workers’ rights activists protested Thursday night outside 116 Crown, the site of Yale’s second annual Pride Ball, condemning alleged acts of wage theft, homophobia and discrimination at the restaurant.
The Pride Ball, which drew over 100 graduate and professional students, was organized by the University’s Office of LGBTQ Resources. Unidad Latina en Acción, a New Haven-based immigrant’s rights organization, sent the office a letter on Wednesday night, requesting that the Pride Ball be moved from 116 Crown because the owner, John Ginnetti, owes $15,000 in unpaid overtime wages to ULA member and former 116 Crown employee Edgar Sandoval. The letter also detailed alleged instances of homophobia and racism by Ginnetti.
After a three-hour meeting with ULA Wednesday night, the office decided that it was not possible to cancel the ball but agreed to allow ULA to host a protest and an “alternative Pride Ball” outside 116 Crown. Further, representatives from ULA read three written testimonies against John Ginnetti’s actions inside the Ball. ULA also provided a petition for those at the Pride Ball to sign, and most of the attendees wore stickers saying “I support LGBTQ rights and Worker’s Rights.”
“While I want you to enjoy those drinks, just remember that the glass you hold in your hand was washed by someone who is suffering the way I did,” said Hillary Aidun LAW ’17, reading Sandoval’s testimony to the attendees of the Pride Ball.
In an interview with the News, Sandoval said that he worked anywhere from 65 to 100 hours a week but was never paid an overtime rate. He often worked while he was sick, and he claimed he was fired for trying to claim his wages.
Ginetti did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
At the rally outside the entrance to 116 Crown, protestors carried picket signs emblazoned with slogans including “Take Exploitation off the Menu,” “Caution: Workplaces Declared Unhealthy for Employees” and “Stop Wage Theft.” Using several megaphones, the protestors shouted refrains emphasizing the importance of the intersectionality between wage issues and LGBTQ issues, including “Queer rights are worker’s rights.”
Management at 116 Crown called the police partway through the rally, and five police cars were parked outside the restaurant for most of the protest. They did not interfere beyond forcing the demonstrators to turn off the megaphones.
Sandoval said the rally and the alternative Pride Ball were meant to support not just him, but all the workers who were mistreated and abused in New Haven.
“People don’t say anything,” he said. “I do this because there’s been a lot of abuse, but people are afraid to talk.”
Other protestors corroborated Sandoval’s claim that his mistreatment was not a one-off incident. Paul Gabriel, a 20-year-old immigrant who now works at Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwest Grill, said that more than 10 of his friends in New Haven have been victims of wage theft. Another protestor, who wished to remain anonymous, said through a translator that he has not been compensated properly for his work at another restaurant on Crown Street.
Sandoval said Ginnetti is a discriminatory owner who often made comments about his employees’ race and sexuality. Sandoval said he has witnessed many moments of injustice, including an instance when Ginnetti fired a worker after calling him a “faggot more than 20 times in front of everyone.”
Maria Trumpler GRD ’92, director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources, said in an email that, in a meeting between Ginetti and the office last Sunday, Ginetti denied the allegation of using homophobic language with an employee. He also denied wage theft allegations and said he had cooperated with the Connecticut Department of Labor investigation, which has concluded but not yet issued a ruling, Trumpler said.
“Since [the] employee has not been named [and has not] come forward, we weighed [the homophobic language allegation] against the decade of support John and 116 Crown has offered to the LGBTQ community at Yale and in New Haven,” she said. “They have regularly worked with the Office and with the [Yale LGBTQ] Affinity group to hold socials and fundraisers, and have contributed to local LGBTQ charities.”
While the allegations are concerning, Trumpler said it was not possible to either cancel or move the Pride Ball.
She said the ball holds significance for many members of the graduate and professional student community.
“Many grad and professional students are among the few out members of their classes and they don’t feel fully comfortable going to the formals at their own schools with their partners,” Trumpler said.
Forty-two attendees of the Pride Ball signed the petition, pledging that they would not patronize 116 Crown after the Pride Ball.
ULA Community Organizing Director John Lugo said that protesting is important to raise awareness and affect a spectrum of change, but that ULA is taking action on a legislative level as well. ULA is currently pushing for Senate Bill 914, which would require employers to pay their employees double damages in the case of wage theft, and Senate Bill 1037, which would allow state courts to freeze an employer’s assets until the employer adequately compensates their workers.
Lugo also said he hopes this is the beginning of a budding relationship between ULA and the Office of LGBTQ Resources.
“We hope that this relationship can grow into one in which we support each other’s struggles for human rights and dignity,” ULA said in their letter.