“Take a stand against sweatshop restaurants! DON’T PATRONIZE GRAND SICHUAN!” read the flier handed out on St. Marks Place by several ex-employees of the Chinese-food favorite yesterday. They claim they were fired as a result of involvement in a previous lawsuit filed against the restaurant’s owner, Xiao Tu Zhang.
In November 2012, Zhang was taken to federal court by several workers, citing unpaid overtime and below minimum wage salaries. The workers were successful in their suit, receiving compensation from him for their collective unpaid hours, along with the reinstatement of two illegally fired employees.
Since then conditions at Grand Sichuan have only worsened, the flier alleges.
Claiming Zhang’s new management under Wen Yan Gao has “declared a war” against workers who sought to “assert their rights,” the flier lists various examples of discrimination and unethical practices, including the continuation of salaries paid below minimum wage.
With assistance from the Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association, workers have committed to a weekly picket outside the restaurant, demanding “the reinstatement of all the workers that have been fired” and calling on the public to “boycott the restaurant.”
The association has also issued a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. “We hope that the labor board will now issue a complaint against the employer,” said Jin Ming Cho, a staff organizer for the Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association.
One former employee of the restaurant, Chang Hui Lin, a plaintiff in the previous lawsuit, has refiled a complaint against the restaurant following his most recent termination. “[Grand Sichuan’s management] said Lin had asked a customer for a tip and that the customer was not happy, so he was fired,” said Cho. “But all the workers ask for tips from their customers. They singled him out because of his involvement in the lawsuit.”
Another former employee, Fang Xiao, filed her own separate suit last November, alleging that her employers withheld tips and failed to pay overtime. The complaint alleges that Xiao, who worked as a busser and later a packer and waitress, was paid first $600 and eventually $1,000 per month, plus about $40 to $50 a day in tips, while working over 50 hours a week. The suit alleges that her manager unlawfully controlled tips, since Xiao was never privy to the total amount of tips collected by the restaurant during a given shift. She was also asked to sign pay stubs that didn’t match her actual hours or wages, and made to pay for her own uniform and upkeep, the suit alleges.
On May 28 of last year, a fellow employee physically assaulted Xiao during a confrontation over tips, the suit claims. According to the complaint, upon requesting her fair share of tips, Xiao, who had previously been told not to associate with employees who were involved in the previous lawsuit or were part of the Chinese Staff Workers Association, was spat on and punched in the corner of her eye by a newly hired employee working under Gao.
“She had a headaches for a long time after that and had to miss work. But when she finally returned to work with a doctor’s note Gao said to her: ‘Why did you come back? Go home.’ Many employees witnessed this,” said Cho.
In court papers, Grand Sichuan’s owners and management denied the allegations laid out in the complaint. Neither they nor their legal representation were available for comment.
Xiao’s attorney, Magaret McIntryre, told us the case is currently in the discovery stage, with no date yet set for trial.
The former workers will continue picketing on St. Marks Place every Wednesday from 12:30pm to 2pm. “If one restaurant gets away with it, all of Zhang’s restaurants can do the same thing,” Cho explained. “Boss Zhang has even told [his] other restaurants not to hire [Lin and Xiao], which is why not many workers like them are willing to fight.”