Spitzer Sues Greengroceries For Labor Abuses

State Attorney General Spitzer today announced that he has filed a lawsuit against three greengroceries in lower Manhattan for failure to pay minimum wages and overtime wages to 31 workers. The petition is part of the Attorney General's on-going efforts to combat labor law abuses in one of New York City's most common neighborhood industries.

In papers filed in State Supreme Court (New York County), Spitzer has presented extensive evidence that for a period of approximately six years, the three stores and their owners - Josephine Kim, Charles Kim and Jacob Han - have repeatedly violated state and federal law by paying their employees wages as low as $2.61 per hour. 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.

The three stores are: 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.

"The case against these three stores is particularly egregious because workers have not only been exploited, but the stores have also continued to violate the law even while facing daily protests by community groups concerned about the workers' plight," said AG Spitzer, who is responsible for enforcing the State's labor laws. "We will continue our efforts to prevent the illegal treatment of workers, whose wages fall far below the required minimum levels, regardless of the extensive hours that they work."

Over a period of five years, employees worked between 54-84 scheduled hours per week. Salaries generally ranged from $180 - $400 per week, with no overtime paid for hours beyond forty. In addition to failure to pay proper wages, employers failed to maintain time and payroll records and failed to provide wage statements to employees. The Attorney General is seeking injunctive relief and back wages for the employees, which could total $500,000.

There are over 2,000 green grocery stores in New York City. Most employ between five and fifteen, usually recent immigrants. After finding rampant labor violations, the Attorney General launched an investigation into the industry last year, which covers Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

In addition to enforcement efforts, the Attorney General's strategy to combat this problem also includes education outreach. The goal is to change widespread practices across a diffuse industry comprised of thousands of employers rather than focus on the conduct of a single large employer.

The Attorney General's office has joined with the Korean Produce Association, an organization that provides a distribution network and consulting services to greengrocers, to hold seminars to help employers comply with federal and state wage and hour labor laws. Over 200 greengrocer employers attended such seminars held last year.

"Many greengrocer employers have taken affirmative steps to learn about the minimum wage and overtime laws, and to come into compliance with them," said Spitzer, whose office noted some positive changes in industry practices in recent months. "We will continue working with employers who act in good faith to comply with the laws, while taking aggressive actions against those who continue to violate the law."

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.