For the 10th time in six months, Unidad Latina en Acción protested alleged wage theft outside Thai Taste Friday night.
ULA, a New Haven-based immigrants’ rights group, alleges that Thai Taste owner Roger Jaruch owes three ex-employees more than $37,000 in unpaid wages at Thai Taste and Rice Pot, an East Haven restaurant Jaruch also owns. Protesters said they have been sending letters to Jaruch asking him to compensate these workers since May, but have not yet received acknowledgment of wrongdoing. ULA organizer John Lugo said the organization will continue to protest, encouraging patrons of Thai Taste to reconsider dining there, until Jaruch repays his workers.
“They have been playing with us, so we’re going to leave it to the Connecticut Department of Labor to take action against these restaurants,” Lugo said. “In the meantime we will continue to protest and boycott the restaurants.”
Lugo said ULA left documents detailing the wage theft allegations against Jaruch at his attorney’s office in September. Jaruch told the News he responded by sending a letter to Lugo, stating that he is prepared to go through appropriate legal channels to rectify the situation. But Lugo alleges that there was no response until Friday night, when Jaruch’s attorney told Lugo that Jaruch is currently in Thailand but is willing to meet in December.
ULA distributed a pamphlet that evening encouraging New Haven residents to boycott the restaurant. A police officer arrived on the scene around 7:30 p.m. Friday and advised ULA protesters against blocking the sidewalk.
“Wage theft is a crime that affects not just the workers but also our city,” the pamphlet read.
Saran Chuntaratit, who manages Thai Taste with her husband Jaruch, said ULA’s complaints about unresponsiveness are unwarranted because she and her husband have indeed responded. The couple’s attorney sent ULA a letter in response in September, Chuntaratit said.
She added that ULA’s estimate of the amount of wages Jaruch owes his workers is incorrect, if any money is owed at all. She and her husband will take the case to court if necessary, Chuntaratit said.
“We sent them the letter, but they did not respond to the letter,” Chuntaratit said. “We want to go legally so that we can show evidence.”
Chuntaratit added that ULA is pressuring the couple to immediately pay the sum they allegedly owe rather than enter legal negotiations with the attorney.
Though ULA will leave the case in the hands of the Department of Labor, ULA will continue to hold protests outside Thai Taste, Lugo said. The organization will schedule its next protest at their weekly meeting Monday evening, he added.
“It’s not fair that these workers have been waiting since May 1 to get an answer from us — we’ve been waiting too long,” Lugo said. “It’s up to the labor department to decide what to do with this case.”
Andi Hallie of the Branford law firm Riccio & Beletsky is the attorney representing Jaruch.