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Fault Lines

Stolen wages

How low-wage restaurant workers in the US are fighting an uphill battle to be paid what they are owed.

Last Modified: 12 Oct 2013 14:10
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In September 2012, about 20 restaurant workers protested in front of the popular David’s Cafe in Miami Beach, a restaurant owned by their former employer, Adrian Gonzalez. 

They give you cheques, three or four, you go to the bank and there is no money. The bank says that is a crime so you go to the police, but the police tell you no, they can't do anything.

Tony Fernandes,
a restaurant worker

They had all worked at David's Cafe II prior to its closing in 2011 and were demanding over $70,000 in unpaid wages. After months of little action from authorities, including the department of labour and local agencies, they had few options but to take things into their own hands.

They decided to go on strike - a step that brought the issue of their low wages to the nation's attention. And it is a scene that is playing out on streets across the US with increasing frequency as two-thirds of low-wage workers report some form of wage theft every week - whether that means being cheated out of hours worked, paid less than the minimum wage, or not being paid at all.

One study estimates that low-wage workers - over 30 million Americans - lose 15 percent of their income each year, the restaurant industry being one of the worst offenders.

According to the department of labour, 84 percent of sit-down restaurants inspected in the last three years were in violation of wage laws.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the food services industry is an organised and powerful opponent against increased minimum wage and workplace protections, spending millions of dollars each year to lobby against regulations and increased wages.

In this episode, Fault Lines travels to Miami, Chicago, and Washington DC to speak with restaurant workers, hear their grievances, and find out what recourse they have when they are not paid what they are owed.

Fault Lines can be seen on Al Jazeera English each week at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 2230; Thursday: 0930; Friday: 0330; Saturday: 1630.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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