Almost all Austin restaurants investigated by Labor Department forced to fork over dough
Over the past nine months, the Department of Labor (DOL) investigated 60 Austin restaurant businesses and found that 95 percent of them were short-changing workers. Now they're being forced to fork over the cash.
"A reputation for great restaurants should be accompanied by a reputation for great labor standards, and we don't see that right now," said David Weil, wage and hour division manager for the DOL.
Most of the violations were for failure to meet minimum wage and overtime standards. The DOL recovered more than $330,000 in back wages for 500 Austinites.
"What makes these violations so significant is these tend to be very low wage workers," said Weil.
On average workers were owed two to two and a half weeks of back pay.
"And that means that they and their families have a difficult time meeting the most basic bills, and needs on a household budget," said Weil.
Ana Gonzalez with the Workers Defense Project says that in just one day this week, five restaurant workers came to the organization for help dealing with unfair wages.
The Workers Defense Project offers legal clinics and classes every Tuesday at 7 p.m. Gonzalez advises workers to keep their pay stubs and know their rights.
"I think that it's important for everyone to protect themselves, to keep track of the hours that they're working," said Gonzalez.
She also wants workers to know that they are owed fair pay regardless of their immigration status and that they shouldn't fear retaliation from their employers, because the organization can help them.
Weil says he'll continue to do his part to protect Austin workers, keeping tabs on the restaurants that didn't dish out what they owed during the latest audit.
"Ultimately, when you have a 95 percent violation rate, what you really want to do is change behavior," Weil says.
He says fair wages in the dining industry is an issue nationwide, but that the numbers for Austin are high.
In a Statement, Richie Jackson, CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, said:
"We take these allegations very seriously, and those who are in violation should be held accountable. However, the DOL has historically portrayed an inaccurate picture of the restaurant industry. In Texas, nearly 43,600 restaurants account for over one million jobs, and the vast majority of those owner/operators are hardworking, law abiding business owners, who are proud to play by the rules."