Many New Yorkers have, at one time or another, worked as a waiter one of the city’s 24,000 restaurants to pay the bills — and many have been stiffed by their employers.
Sometimes, neither owners nor waiters understand the laws, so labor lawyer Louis Pechman last month launched the website WaiterPay.com outlining the complex array of rules.
“I would suspect more than half of the restaurants in New York City are either intentionally or unintentionally committing some violation of the wage and hour laws every day,” said Pechman, who has represented both sides of the industry, but gained notoriety for winning a $3.15 million settlement from Sparks Steakhouse for tip stealing.
If four-star restaurants are accused of stumbling over labor laws, “imagine what is going on in the smaller restaurants,” he said.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center is threatening to sue much-lauded Del Posto, which Mario Batali is part owner of, regarding tip misappropriation and other claims.
Batali’s rep did not respond for comment.
“Unfortunately, the labor laws in the restaurant industry tend to be complicated and a lot of honest, hardworking business owners tend to be compromised because of the complexities,” said Andrew Rigie, of the New York State Restaurant Workers Association.
A waitress who’s worked at a West Village cafe for five years — and asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation — said her boss pays her with a personal check for 20 hours a week, paying $2 an hour in cash for the rest of her hours.
“Because we were making more than $1,000 a week with tips, he assumed he didn’t need to pay us the [legal] $4.65,” she said. She’s helping Make the Road New York push for stiffer penalties for such practices.
"Today, with 12,600 dues-paying members, MRNY is a unique amalgam of worker center, legal clinic, citizenship school, mutual aid society, policy shop, protest factory and church. Its four offices in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island are an egalitarian oasis for members, who gather there for conversation and classes..."