Wage violations, firings cost La Taqueria $500k

Former and current workers at a popular San Francisco Mexican restaurant in the Mission will be paid nearly $500,000 in back wages due to a settlement, the workers and their attorneys announced Tuesday.

The settlement is the result of a claim filed against La Taqueria, the famed eatery near Mission and 26th streets, with the state’s Bureau of Field Enforcement and the city’s Office of the Labor Standards Enforcement, according to Young Workers United and Advancing Justice -Asian Law Caucus, the organizations that helped the workers file the claim.

The workers initially approached Young Workers United in 2016 with claims of 10-hour workdays with no paid overtime and no paid sick days. The claims led to an investigation into the allegations by the field enforcement and labor enforcement offices.

Ilana Masters with Young Workers United said:

“Workers deserve to have dignity and respect in their workplaces, to have a voice, to try to make conditions better without fear of getting fired. … With rising income inequality in San Francisco and the high cost of living, we must continue to ensure that the workers who make this city run can live here. We must continue to raise the standards.”

After the investigation, however, some of the workers involved in filing the claims were fired, allegedly during a company meeting and in front of the entire staff.

Cristina, who worked at La Taqueria for more than 10 years before being fired, said:

“I liked my job… I cut fruit, prepared burritos, cleaned tables, worked the cash register a little bit and took orders. But during those ten years working at La Taqueria, I started to feel frustrated.”

Cristina, who did not want to give her last name, said that the 10-hour shifts without overtime left her feeling exhausted. Additionally, she said she was too afraid to ask for days off out of fear of getting fired, and even worked extra hours so that she could get time off to accompany her young daughter to surgery.

She said:

“I hope the workers now are valued and know that they have rights.”

Another La Taqueria employee involved in organizing, Victoria, said:

“People were not getting paid their paid sick days… nobody knew about that. Also the right of overtime was always violated, which is a federal law and was not paid at La Taqueria. Also, they were not contributing to the employees’ medical benefits.”

Victoria said:

“The point was not for us to win money. The point is for us to make a difference in the workplace.”

Winne Kao, an attorney with Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, said:

“We’re so incredibly honored that the workers got back pay not just for themselves, but for their children and their families and for other workers who were at the restaurant too scared to come forward. … In this case, the workers brought all of these issues to their employer and tried to resolve them amicably. It was only after those efforts failed that we filed claims on their behalf.”

According to Kao, once the claims were filed and the investigations were completed, La Taqueria did not contest the investigation’s assessments and were ordered to pay $500,000 worth of back wages, sick leave and healthcare fees to around 30 current and former employees.

However, at least two of the workers involved in the organizing were fired.

Kao said:

“We felt those firings were blatantly retaliatory. … We immediately filed retaliation claims with both labor agencies.”

As a result of the retaliation claims, La Taqueria agreed to pay in full back pay owed from the retaliation, substantial monetary penalties, offers of reinstatements to the fired workers, which they declined. Additionally, La Taqueria will have to provide a paid training session to the employees, informing them about their work rights.

The back pay will go as far back as 2015, as three years is the limit an administrative claim, Kao said:

“We just celebrated getting the minimum wage to $15, however, even if you work fulltime and are getting paid minimum wage and earn your overtime and get your sick leave and get your health pay, you cannot afford a single dignified apartment to live here in San Francisco.”

Supervisor Hillary Ronen said:

“So when employers are skirting those laws, they make life even more difficult for the working people of San Francisco.”

La Taqueria was not immediately available for comment.