New York State Department of Labor Press Release, 1/21/09:
Two Ithaca restaurants were found by the State Labor Department to be underpaying their workers by thousands of dollars, Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith announced today. Taste of Thai and Tamarind, owned by Ariya Pancharoen, violated a number of labor laws, including overtime provisions, recordkeeping, and tip appropriations. Overall, 36 workers are collectively owed $28,388 in wage underpayments. The owner has signed a stipulation agreeing to pay the full amount to workers in three monthly payments, which began for Taste of Thai on November 15, and began for Tamarind on January 15, 2009.
"Labor laws are in place to protect workers throughout the state, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, from Islip to Ithaca. Even though people sometimes think of labor law violations as a big-city problem, we see such cases throughout the state," said Commissioner Smith. "Taste of Thai and Tamarind will pay their workers every cent that is owed to them, and we will be watching both establishments very closely to make certain that nothing like this ever happens again".
In May, the Labor Department received an anonymous complaint alleging labor law issues at Taste of Thai. Employees, who were primarily of Thai descent, were interviewed by Labor Department investigators through a Thai interpreter. During the course of the investigation, it was discovered that the owner of Taste of Thai also owned and operated Tamarind, prompting investigators to look into the labor practices of that restaurant as well. DOL staff also had conversations with the Tompkins County Workers' Center at this time in regard to the experiences of employees from Taste of Thai who had contacted the.
The investigation into the two restaurants indicated that they were not paying overtime rates to employees, even though staff regularly worked well over forty hours per week. In addition, the restaurants were taking tips from the service staff and distributing the money to other employees - also an illegal practice. The restaurant did not keep adequate time and payroll records as required. Investigators also found that not all employees were given a day of rest each week, as mandated by law.
Says Pete Meyers, Coordinator of the Workers' Center: "We are pleased to have been able to work collaboratively with the Labor Department, as well as the workers we have connected with locally, in successfully resolving this matter. We urge any worker who has questions about their wages, or feel they are being treated unfairly, to contact the Workers' Center of the NYS Labor Department."
New York State's minimum wage is $7.15 per hour, and employers are required to pay overtime for weekly hours past forty at one and one-half times the employee's regular pay rate. In certain limited cases, employers are permitted to pay a lower, "tipped" rate to employees who receive tips. However, employers must pay the appropriate wage to tipped employees and may not expect them to work for tips only. The investigations were handled by Labor Standards Investigator, Susan Wood