Unidad Latina en Accion, a New Haven-based immigrants’ rights activist group, staged its 11th Thai Taste protest since May on Saturday evening.
ULA 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. Though the Connecticut Department of Labor began investigating these claims before auditing the restaurant Tuesday, roughly 15 ULA members and sympathizers convened outside of the Chapel Street restaurant Saturday to protest the alleged wage theft once again. Protesters said they are continuing demonstrations to hasten judicial action and galvanize public support.
“The reason why we continue to demonstrate is we find that it’s the best method to push the Department of Labor to speed up the process,” ULA organizer Karim Calle said.
The protest featured not only workers and immigrants’ rights advocates, but also the children of ULA community members. Calle said she and Joe Foran, another ULA organizer, bring their children to pass out leaflets and speak through the megaphone because they want to begin educating them about social justice at an early age.
Foran said protestors chanted “Don’t buy Pad Thai from this bad guy” and “Don’t let your education go to waste; don’t eat at Thai Taste” in front of the restaurant for almost an hour. He said one restaurant patron approached him and other demonstrators to tell them she would not have eaten at Thai Taste if she had known about the allegations.
While Jaruch was not at the restaurant Saturday, he said he was aware of the demonstration and is “used to” ULA’s relatively frequent protests. He added that he does not know why ULA staged another protest since the DOL has already audited the restaurant.
“This can be solved in court,” Jaruch said. “The Labor Department already has the report and is investigating.”
He said while ULA has a right to protest, he thinks demonstrations make customers uncomfortable, adding that it seems to him as though ULA wants him to pay the alleged sum without going through proper DOL procedures.
Jaruch said the DOL is looking into payroll records to determine whether wage theft occurred. He said his lawyer, Andi Hallie of Branford law firm Riccio & Beletsky, has been corresponding with DOL officials. Calle said two former Thai Taste employees allege that while they were working for Jaruch, he paid them less than the state’s minimum wage and did not pay them for overtime. She added that the workers, who were supporting families, were unable to take any days off due to financial duress.
Foran said he thinks the demonstrations are effective in moving toward a more socially just New Haven. He said putting a worker’s face on wage theft helps rally public support.
“When we go there to demonstrate, it’s with the intention of letting students know what the restaurant is doing and asking them to stand in solidarity with the workers, and to also help us advocate against wage theft,” Calle said.
Calle said the main audience ULA hopes to reach is the Yale community. She said she noticed many Yale students dining at the restaurant Saturday’s demonstration.
ULA also stages semi-regular protests at Goodfellas Restaurant, a steakhouse on State Street. Five former Goodfellas employees filed a federal lawsuit against the owner in May alleging wage theft, harassment and intimidation.
“There’s no peace without justice,” Foran said.
ULA was founded in New Haven by Guatemalan immigrants in 2002.