Spitzer And Consul General Announce Settlement Of Labor Abuse Cases Against Greengroceries
State Attorney General Spitzer - joined by Mexican Consul General Salvador Beltran del Rio - today announced a $315,000 settlement of a lawsuit against three greengroceries in lower Manhattan for failure to pay minimum and overtime wages to workers, most of whom are Mexican immigrants.
The settlement is part of the Attorney General's continuing efforts to combat labor law violations in one of New York City's most common neighborhood industries. There are over 2,000 greengrocers throughout the City.
"Despite months of picketing and community boycotts protesting their labor practices, these stores continued to exploit workers," Spitzer said. "But, we are pleased that our settlement will help make these workers whole; and, we believe it will set a good example for the growing trend toward decent and legal wages in the industry."
"Mexican workers, as well as all immigrants, come to New York to work very hard to contribute to the growth of the economy of the city. The extraordinary work performed by Attorney General Spitzer and his team sets a very important precedent in the protection of workers in the city who, regardless of their migratory status, are entitled to the wages established by law and most importantly will benefit by their employers' compliance with those laws," said Consul General Beltran del Rio. "A large number of Mexicans work in the greengrocery industry, therefore, the Mexican Consulate in New York will continue with its efforts to assist and inform those Mexicans whose labor rights have been violated."
Spitzer's lawsuit, filed in May, 2001, alleged that for a period of six years, workers at the greengrocery stores were paid wages as low as $2.61 per hour, despite the fact that most of them worked between 54-84 hours per week . Federal and state minimum wage laws require payment of $5.15 per hour and one-and one-half times that amount for work over 40 hours per week.
A settlement has been reached with: Far East Produce, Inc. d/b/a East Natural, located at 61 Fifth Avenue; DK Corp d/b/a Soho Natural, located at 127 Spring Street; and Jack & Jane Corp. d/b/a Abbigail, located at 75 Fifth Avenue. (Of the three stores, only DK Corp. is still in operation.) Under terms announced today the stores and their owners - Josephine Kim and Jacob Han - will pay $315,000 to 31 workers. The lawsuit will proceed against a third owner, Charles Y. Kim.
The owners have also agreed to submit to regular monitoring of their practices by the Attorney General's office to ensure future compliance with the law. Spitzer pledged to continue vigorous investigations and prosecutions of greengrocers who pay workers sweatshop wages.
"We hope that employers will now face up to workers and members of the community, and obey the labor laws," said Manny Ness, founder of the Community Labor Coalition - an organization that monitors workplace conditions. "We pledge to continue working with the Attorney General's office and organized labor to improve the conditions for workers in our neighborhoods."
The settlement with the three greengrocers is one of several that the Attorney General has reached with stores in the past year, including most recently, a $46,000 settlement in May with Queens-based Theresa & Joseph Corp.; and a $59,500 settlement in July with 158 W. Food Corp. d/b/a Times Deli, located in Times Square. Those settlements, covering 21 workers, also provided for continued monitoring of labor law compliance. To date, Spitzer's office has settled six cases with greengrocers totaling more than $600,000 on behalf of workers.
In addition to filing lawsuits, Spitzer's office has spearheaded an education campaign among greengrocer employers, providing training on minimum and overtime wage law compliance to employers, in conjunction with several Korean organizations, including the Korean American Association of Greater New York and the Korean American Produce Association. Approximately 270 employers have participated in the seminars. Most of the 2,000 greengrocers in New York City employ between five and fifteen workers, usually recent immigrants.
The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Terri Gerstein of the AG's Labor Bureau, which is under the direction of Bureau Chief M. Patricia Smith.