Members of Unidad Latina en Accion — a New Haven-based immigrant-rights organization — met with Mayor Toni Harp and New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman Wednesday to call on the city to protect ULA members’ rights to protest and take action against alleged wage theft at the Italian restaurant Goodfellas.
Fifteen ULA members and supporters, former Goodfellas employees and Yale Law School students presented Harp and Esserman with a plan to address wage theft and police violation of civil liberties. The meeting was scheduled in response to last Wednesday’s sit-in at City Hall, where ULA members decried the Nov. 20 arrest of organizer John Lugo at a protest against Goodfellas. NHPD arrested Lugo for disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer after protesting with a megaphone. He made his first court appearance last Friday and was given a continuance. Lugo will appear in court next month, according to ULA organizer Megan Fountain ’07.
“It was a very good beginning, but this is just the beginning,” Fountain said. “Esserman and Harp said they want to meet with us again, so we have to keep moving forward.”
ULA called for the mayor’s office to uphold the organization’s first amendment right to protest, advocate for ULA on a state level and encourage Elm City community members to only patronize businesses with fair labor practices.
Fountain said ULA also asked Harp to immediately revoke Goodfellas’ outdoor seating license, which the restaurant needs to maintain public seating on the sidewalk. She added that other cities, like Chicago, have revoked businesses’ outdoor seating licenses in response to wage theft complaints.
“We want the police to adopt a procedure to investigate wage theft and enforce the law,” Fountain said. “The NHPD have the authority to do it, it is larceny, and there’s a series of criminal statutes. So the NHPD have the authority and responsibility to take action on wage theft.”
Harp proposed three steps in response to ULA’s complaints. She said her staff will review wage theft allegations against Goodfellas as well as complaints that the NHPD allegedly violated ULA members’ right to protest. Harp added that she will encourage the Connecticut Department of Labor to follow up on pending wage theft allegations around the city.
She also proposed that two ULA members join her Community and Police Relations Task Force, a committee the city formed in March to improve the relationship between police and New Haven community members. Two ULA members, Karim Calle and Joseph Foran, will attend the task force’s next meeting.
Harp described her meeting with ULA as “cordial” and “respectful” in an email to the News.
Calle said that although she is pleased with Harp’s proposals, the city still has work to do. She said she was hopeful that Harp and Esserman will cooperate with ULA after looking through their letter of recommendations.
“We hope that they’re able to see us from the victims’ point of view, but also from the community’s point of view,” Calle said. “It’s important to understand how these community members grieve through the process of wage theft to understand changes that need to be made within our community.”
Five Goodfellas employees filed a federal lawsuit against the restaurant on May 1.