Rebecca Karabus

Forty immigrant-rights activists staged a protest and sit-in Wednesday evening at City Hall to bring wage-theft allegations against Italian restaurant Goodfellas to Mayor Toni Harp’s attention and dispute the arrest of an activist during the previous week’s protest at the restaurant.

Members and allies of Unidad Latina en Accion, a New Haven-based immigrant-rights organization, gathered outside City Hall before entering the mayor’s office and demanding to meet with Harp. The protest occurred partly in response to the Nov. 20 arrest of ULA organizer John Lugo, who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer after a protesting with a megaphone outside of Goodfellas. Activists at City Hall said Lugo’s arrest violated his right to protest, adding that ULA has led similar protests for 10 years in the Elm City. The protesters also criticized New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman for walking through a prior Goodfellas protest to eat at the restaurant roughly two weeks ago, alleging that the NHPD has engaged in collusion with the restaurant. On the night of his arrest, Lugo was released with a promise to appear in court. His court date was scheduled for Friday, but when he appeared the court issued a continuance. The date of Lugo’s next court appearance has not been released.

“Today we are here to tell Harp and Esserman — who walked right across our line and went on to eat at Goodfellas two weeks ago — that they need to be accountable,” said Joseph Foran, ULA member and one of the protest organizers. “We’re here and are going to make sure the New Haven Police Department ceases and desists collusion with Goodfellas.”

Though city spokesman Laurence Grotheer informed the group that Harp was unavailable because she was in another meeting, the activists refused to leave until Harp or a scheduler confirmed a time to meet with them. Grotheer told protesters that the judicial department, not the mayor, is responsible for dealing with Lugo’s arrest.

ULA organizer Karim Calle told Grotheer wage theft had been occurring at Goodfellas since 2007. She gave him a copy of ULA’s report listing allegations of wage theft and discrimination against workers at Goodfellas over the last decade.

Claudina Lara, an activist with Make the Road Connecticut — a Bridgeport-based Latino and immigrant-rights organization whose members also attended last week’s protest — said the group would not leave until Harp came out to speak with them. Although Harp did not ever appear at the protest, Grotheer eventually confirmed a meeting for Wednesday morning.

“Why is it when she wanted to get voted into office she could step out of meetings, her face was everywhere?” Lara said.

During the sit-in, which lasted more than an hour, former Goodfellas employee and ULA supporter Emily Gallagher spoke of her personal experiences with wage theft when she worked at the restaurant from 2005 to 2007. She said she had filed two separate complaints with the Connecticut Department of Labor for not receiving overtime payment and receiving checks that bounced. She said the investigation began over a year after she filed the complaints. Gallagher said it is “shameful” that the owner of Goodfellas is allegedly still withholding workers’ wages 10 years later.

Victorya McEvoy, an Elm City resident and ULA supporter, said she attended the protest and sit-in because she “values justice” and thinks wage theft is one of the city’s largest impediments to residents achieving a high quality of life.

“New Haven, which claims to be a progressive city, an inclusive city, a quality city, a supportive city, is allowing these people to be trampled by the elite,” McEvoy said. “If I want there to be a fair wage policy in my city, I show up.”

After the sit-in at City Hall, the group migrated to Goodfellas and continued the protest outside the restaurant.