A small army of waiters, deliverymen and busboys who worked at a Mott Street dim sum joint sued their boss earlier this year for cheating them out of wages — and they won.
But collecting on the $943,000 that Joy Luck Palace was ordered to pay them in September has been harder than winning the federal lawsuit.
In fact, not a single worker has received a cent, they told the Daily News.
Jin Ming “Vincent” Cao, 36, is one of the 19 workers who sued the restaurant’s owners and operators. He was working as a waiter at Joy Luck Palace in June 2018 when the management abruptly stopped paying wages. He and his colleagues stayed on working for tips, but then, two months later, the restaurant closed down.
“We realized we weren’t going to get our wages so we decided to do something,” he said.
They filed a lawsuit and won a judgement of $943,000. Cao’s portion of that is $64,285 — which he has yet to receive. That’s because, according to Cao, the restaurant’s owners and operators had plenty of time to hide their assets as the lawsuit ground to a conclusion.
Thomas Power, the attorney for the stiffed workers, noted that the defendants did not show up for any of the litigation.
“It’s fair to suspect that they have taken some steps to move their assets,” he said.
For workers living in the Empire State, this kind of story is far too common.
According to a 2014 U.S. Department of Labor report, workers in New York are cheated out of anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion in wages a year.
Another study — conducted by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in 2015 — found that even when workers prevail in wage theft cases, more than $126 million due to them in New York State has not been paid out.
The study found there was $25 million in unpaid cash stemming from civil lawsuits throughout the state and $101 million in outstanding debt that the state Labor Department determined employers owed their workers, but that it was unable to collect.
In 2019 alone, people filed about 5,800 lawsuits in New York federal courts involving the Fair Labor Standards Act, which covers minimum and overtime wage claims, as well as workplace retaliation.
But even when workers win those cases, they often have to struggle to track down the money they’re owed from companies, which in many cases shut down in order to hide assets.
“There are employers who employ wage theft to set up a competitive advantage,” said Richard Blum, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society. “Hiding it comes in the form of shifting assets.”
To remedy that, advocates like Blum and Sarah Ahn, director of the Flushing Workers Center, are pushing for the enactment of the SWEAT Act, which would give workers an alternative to filing lawsuits.
“It would give workers the ability to walk into their county clerk’s office and apply a lien,” Ahn said.