Xue Ying You and Casidy Lu – the owners of New York Buffet in Somerset and the now defunct Grand China Buffet in Raynham – have been ordered to pay over $50,000 in back wages and more than $130,000 in penalties for serious and intentional violations of the Massachusetts Minimum Wage, Child Labor and Anti-Retaliation Laws by Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office.
Grand China Buffet came under scrutiny in August of 2010 when the restaurants' workers were joined by MassCOSH, the Chinese Progressive Association and the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores (the Workers Community Center) to deliver an "unfair labor practice" complaint to the owners of the restaurant. The worker centers are all members of the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative, which supports workers across communities and ethnicities to demand safe, just working conditions.
In the letter, the employees of Grand China Buffet demanded that management re-hire workers who they said were fired after they refused to operate a malfunctioning oven, which later exploded. The workers also cited their 70-hour, 6-day work week, low pay – between $4.51 and $6.83 per hour – and denial of meal breaks as illegal labor practices.
Over 30 workers and supporters held signs and spoke to customers inside and outside the business regarding the restaurant’s working conditions and their unjust treatment, persuading some visitors to take their business elsewhere.
"I had worked at Grand Chinese Buffet for months with no pay," stated Fidela Martinaz, who was sixteen years old and pregnant while working for the restaurant. "They gave me a small room to live in with my boyfriend but would not pay me. They made me work excessive hours with no breaks."
Exchanging room and board for pay was not limited to just Martinez. According to the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division, up to four employees shared one bedroom with approximately 13 workers in the house owned by You and Lu. Workers also were not given keys to access their home and their living conditions were defined by the Fair Labor Division as "unsuitable."
Tom Smith, an attorney with the non-profit organization Justice At Work, represented the workers, with assistance from Greater Boston Legal Services Attorney Audrey Richardson. "These were courageous workers who spoke out against abusive conditions that thousands of kitchen workers are suffering in silence," said Smith. "Hopefully, this decision by the attorney general will provide the workers with a sense of justice along with their hard-earned wages and send a message to restaurant owners that there are serious consequences to violating the laws of the commonwealth."