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Saigon Grill delivery strike: more to come?


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 04:55 PM

As I mentioned on the Saigon Grill topic, the delivery teams at the Saigon Grill restaurants are on strike. It is not possible, at present, to sit around in your underwear and have Number 19 (goi du du aka green papaya salad with beef) brought to you; now you have to schlep to Saigon Grill to get it.

I first noticed this a couple of weeks ago, when I tried to order from Saigon Grill on the day of this winter's first major snowstorm. The lady on the phone said "Pick up only!" and I figured it was because of the weather. But when I went to pick up food, I asked some questions and was told "Delivery men on strike!" I couldn't get answers to the why-type questions.

I figured it might be a temporary condition, but as of yesterday it's still "Pick up only!" at Saigon Grill on the Upper West Side. Luckylies reports that the Saigon Grill in the Village is also experiencing the strike, and that the people working at the restaurant there said the duration of the strike would be indefinite. The Upper East Side branch, for its part, has been closed for renovations for several months.

I wonder if this strike is a sign of things to come. The circumstances under which restaurant delivery workers -- particularly Asian restaurant delivery men -- labor are brutal. These are not the spoiled-rotten union workers at the hotel restaurants, who shriek when their pedicure benefits are placed at risk. The Asian-restaurant delivery guys risk their lives every time they set out on those bicycles and mopeds. They're surely paid almost nothing, and their tips can be unpredictable -- who knows what they actually get to keep. These workers seem to be almost completely unorganized -- I'm actually surprised they could pull together a strike at more than one restaurant. But more than that they seem to fall outside the notice or protection of any agency or group.

We as consumers are of course partly to blame. We demand rock-bottom prices and have incredibly high expectations for speed of Asian restaurant delivery. When the weather gets bad, we order more. If the price of beef lo mein goes up a dollar at one place, we can order from five other places in the same delivery radius -- and many of us do just that. We expect free extras like cold noodles and sodas. And because the price of the food is so low, even a generous tip isn't all that much as an absolute number -- there's only so much money you can make $2 at a time.

Does anybody have more information about the dark underbelly of the New York Asian-restaurant delivery world?
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#2 Dryden

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 07:20 AM

They've been picketing outside the Saigon Grill on the UWS during the day for the last week or so... I know one of the signs said something about "slave labor". That's all the information I have.
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#3 Fat Guy

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 07:44 AM

Interesting. I must be going by too late to see the picketing. If you happen wander by with a digital camera in hand, it would be great if you could post a photo.
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#4 Fat Guy

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 08:50 AM

Seems there was a short piece last week in the Times Metro section about this strike, which may really be more of a protest after a lockout.

The delivery workers said they were locked out of the restaurant after they announced their intention to organize a union and file a lawsuit against the owners of Saigon Grill, protesting working conditions and what they called an illegal contract. They plan to mount a daily protest in front of the restaurant and urge customers to boycott it.


The story, by Anthony Ramirez, titled "Hoping to Unionize, Deliverymen Picket Upper West Side Restaurant," ran on 8 March 2007 and is available only to TimesSelect subscribers.

The core anecdote in the article involved a Saigon Grill delivery man named Jian Xie, 23 years old. He makes 30 or 40 deliveries a night, going as many as 40 blocks (80 round trip) by bicycle to deliver a single order. One night, he was held up at gunpoint and lost $300 of the restaurant's money. He was required to compensate the restaurant. Nice.
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#5 Fat Guy

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 01:17 PM

New York magazine was on top of this too:

The popular Saigon Grill mini-chain, with locations on the Upper West Side and in the East Village (and a third, closed for renovation, on the Upper East Side), hasn't been offering delivery since it locked out 22 deliverymen Friday night. "I told them to leave because they tried to extort," owner Simon Nget, a Chinese Cambodian refugee, said last night. At an 11:30 meeting Friday, he asked the workers to sign a form he'd prepared, stipulating that they received adequate wages and would not sue him. A representative of the workers, he said, mentioned a $700,000 settlement paid to nine employees, which he said made him feel "threatened."

http://nymag.com/dai...on_grill_1.html
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#6 Fat Guy

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 05:03 PM

I went by Saigon Grill on the UWS this evening, and at the counter they had a stack of the following letter from the owner. It's in all caps, however I've typed it in mixed case:

I am Simon Nget, the owner of Saigon Grill. I apologize to my neighbors and customers for the disturbance that is taking place.

I have always paid my delivery men what is required by law, paid their taxes and paid their benefits. They have no legitimate complaint.

Instead of urging customers not to patronize the restaurant, these pickets yell, scream, beat drums, frighten the customers and disturb the peace and the residents of the area. This is illegal and not right.

If you want to register a complaint against these unruly pickets, please contact the following:

[contact info for the UWS and Union Square police precincts]

As a businessman, I respect workers. I treat workers fairly. These deliver men behave like thugs and gangsters and have threatened me, my family and my inside workers.

Thank you for your continuing patronage.


Attached to the letter is a printout of a comment (as in a reply post from a reader) on an article posted on the Washington Square News website (the Washington Square News is the NYU student newspaper). The article is here and the comment in question is here.
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#7 Pan

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 12:17 AM

How credible is it that low-paid workers would go out on strike and picket (thus denying themselves the opportunity to work and earn money during those hours) just to "swindle money," as the comment that you link to claims?

I haven't been in those areas lately. To what extent are the strikers in fact "disturb[ing] the peace," and have any of them been arrested for doing so? Did they try to frighten you?

#8 cakewalk

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 06:49 AM

Makes me wish I patronized the restaurant so that I could boycott it now. Ideally I'd like to see the delivery people of other restaurants join forces with these guys. (So much for my ideals.)

I don't understand how the owner could try to get them to sign something attesting to the fact that he does pay them minimum wage. If it were true, wouldn't the pay stubs and time sheets speak for themselves?

(But I do wish they'd stop riding on the sidewalks and going the wrong way on one-way streets.)

#9 Megan Blocker

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 07:16 AM

Are delivery people paid like waitstaff? In other words, are their wages permitted by law to be lower, since it's assumed they make a certain percentage in tips?

I didn't think so, but this topic has me wondering...

That said, I'm interested to see how this unfolds. Given our (or, at least, MY) dependency on food delivery in this city, a burgeoning union could have some interesting consequences. I wonder if they'll garner more or less sympathy than the MTA workers did during the strike in 2005?
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#10 larrylee

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 02:05 PM

From Eater: Ollie's Workers To Sue Restaurant Over $1.40/Hr Wages

Last week it was the delivery workers at Saigon Grill who resorted to legal action as their employer allegedly mistreated them in a myriad ways. This week, the same staff subset but at Ollie's Noodle Shop on the Upper West Side are taking legal action against their bosses. Represented by the Urban Justice Center and the law firm of Shearman & Sterling, the workers are claiming all sorts of labor law violations, including being paid as little as $1.40 an hour.


Edited by larrylee, 28 March 2007 - 02:06 PM.


#11 Pan

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 06:27 PM

Are delivery people paid like waitstaff?  In other words, are their wages permitted by law to be lower, since it's assumed they make a certain percentage in tips?

I didn't think so, but this topic has me wondering...

That said, I'm interested to see how this unfolds.  Given our (or, at least, MY) dependency on food delivery in this city, a burgeoning union could have some interesting consequences.  I wonder if they'll garner more or less sympathy than the MTA workers did during the strike in 2005?

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I'd have much more sympathy for them than the MTA workers, because the lack of deliveries during a strike wouldn't paralyze the city. That said, I thought the MTA workers had very legitimate gripes, too; it's just that I had a problem with them holding the entire city hostage in the unique way that a transportation strike can do that.

#12 larrylee

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 09:12 PM

I went to the single showing of "We Feed the World" tonight at Cinema Village, which placed me near Saigon Grill's Union Square branch. Some pics below.

Posted Image

Posted Image

Posted Image

The protestors handed out leaflets, banged on a small drum, and clashed some cymbals while chanting "Boycot Saigon Grill!" It was loud enough to hear while standing in front of Cinema Village.

#13 Fat Guy

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 10:30 PM

The minimum wage in New York is $7.15 per hour. Food-service employees who receive tips also have to earn $7.15 per hour, however restaurants are able to take a credit against tips. Thus, a restaurant (in New York) can pay its tipped employees $4.60 per hour so long as they can document that their employees are actually making $7.15+ per hour when their tips are counted. The tip credit subsidy (consumers subsidizing the ability of restaurants to pay out less than minimum wage) is estimated at something like $25 billion per year.

I have no doubt that a Saigon Grill delivery man, making 30 deliveries a night, makes more than $7.15 per hour. I wouldn't be surprised if the number was more like $15 per hour in cash tips, with little of that being reported on tax returns. While the occasional cheapskate may give a small tip, New Yorkers are, on the whole, generous tippers. And Saigon Grill has delivery minimums that increase with distance, so the tip basis on the orders that require longer bike rides is still going to be decent. I know when the Saigon Grill delivery guy comes to me, he's often also carrying a couple of other orders.

I doubt the issue of net wages, if laid bare, would be all that persuasive for the delivery guys. It's the inhumane conditions under which so many delivery people work that are far more of a concern, to me at least.

Unfortunately, in this particular face-off, the demagogues have now taken over. So, truth will be the first casualty. However, I also think this may be the leading edge of a long-overdue realignment of the ethnic restaurant world, to bring it into conformity with modern employment practices. This is ultimately going to raise the price of Asian and many other types of ethnic food, I'm sure. So be it. It's time.
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#14 Megan Blocker

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 06:31 AM

From Eater: Ollie's Workers To Sue Restaurant Over $1.40/Hr Wages

Last week it was the delivery workers at Saigon Grill who resorted to legal action as their employer allegedly mistreated them in a myriad ways. This week, the same staff subset but at Ollie's Noodle Shop on the Upper West Side are taking legal action against their bosses. Represented by the Urban Justice Center and the law firm of Shearman & Sterling, the workers are claiming all sorts of labor law violations, including being paid as little as $1.40 an hour.

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Hmmmm...if this is true, it's just another reason not to eat at Ollie's. :laugh:

Has anyone crossed a picket line to get into a Saigon Grill branch yet? Care to report?
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#15 Fat Guy

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 06:37 AM

The story was in the New York Times this morning, here:

Ollie’s, one of Manhattan’s best-known Chinese restaurant chains, was sued yesterday by 43 waiters, deliverymen and other workers who accused it of violating minimum wage laws by paying some employees as little as $1.40 an hour.

At a news conference and protest rally outside the Ollie’s Noodle Shop and Grille at 68th Street and Broadway, several dozen workers carried signs saying, “Slave Labor” and “Ollie’s Pay Back Our Sweat-Earned Money.”


It's not hard to see that this is going to start happening more and more. Restaurants would be wise to get ahead of the game and get their employment practices in order. Once a restaurant gets into a big labor dispute involving back wages and penalties, the costs really mount -- most restaurants can't survive that hit.
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#16 Fat Guy

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 06:48 AM

Actually the Sun had the story yesterday, cited by Grub Street. Who can keep up?
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#17 Megan Blocker

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 07:54 AM

The story was in the New York Times this morning, here:

Ollie’s, one of Manhattan’s best-known Chinese restaurant chains, was sued yesterday by 43 waiters, deliverymen and other workers who accused it of violating minimum wage laws by paying some employees as little as $1.40 an hour.

At a news conference and protest rally outside the Ollie’s Noodle Shop and Grille at 68th Street and Broadway, several dozen workers carried signs saying, “Slave Labor” and “Ollie’s Pay Back Our Sweat-Earned Money.”


It's not hard to see that this is going to start happening more and more. Restaurants would be wise to get ahead of the game and get their employment practices in order. Once a restaurant gets into a big labor dispute involving back wages and penalties, the costs really mount -- most restaurants can't survive that hit.

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I was thinking about this yesterday...popped into Fresco on the Go on 52nd for a quick chicken sandwich, and saw a sign reminding employees to put their dibs in for their week of vacation...which is nice.
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#18 larrylee

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 03:37 PM

FG: I posted the Ollie's story upthread in post #10. :-P

Megan: We crossed the picket line to eat at the uptown Saigon Grill. Actually, it was late and there was no picket line. The place was packed as it always is.

Also: The delivery guys at the UWS branch seem to use scooters. There may be bikes, too, I can't recall.

#19 alanamoana

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 05:46 PM

I have no doubt that a Saigon Grill delivery man, making 30 deliveries a night, makes more than $7.15 per hour. I wouldn't be surprised if the number was more like $15 per hour in cash tips, with little of that being reported on tax returns.

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if a position is a tipped position, the government has now put in place minimum taxes on those employees to include assumed income from tips...not that it stops front of house people from trying to find clever ways to hide money.

i find it interesting that all these cousins, uncles, brothers and stuff would protest against family? :raz:

#20 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 April 2007 - 06:43 PM

I picked up dinner at Saigon Grill on the UWS today. One piece of information I picked up is that they've shut down the sushi service. There was no explicit acknowledgment of a connection to the labor issue, however it seems like a logical conclusion that they're scaling back on account of decreased revenues.

There's a new handout on the counter. It's a letter to the customers signed by all the "inside workers." The page is teeming with signatures, some in English and some in Asian alphabets. Whether signing this paper was a matter of choice, I cannot say, but the writing style is reminiscent of the previous memo, which came from management.

Anyway, the letter says:

From All The Inside Workers @ Saigon Grill

Here is our flyer. It tells our side of the story so you can make your own decision.

The people inside the restaurant are hardworking people who are trying to make a living. All we want to do is give you good service and a good meal. We are just simple workers trying to pay our bills.

The demonstrators have a right to strike but we have a right to work. They are interfering with out livelihood. If we thought things were unfair we wouldn't be here. The owner Simon Nget & his wife are good and hard working people. They treat us good. The demonstrators are taking money out of our pocket by chasing away customers. I don't think that is fair to me or other people inside, do you?

Thank you very much and I hope to see you inside.

We appreciate you now more than ever.

All the inside workers.

Signature:


As seems to be the case always in the evening, there were no protesters anywhere to be seen.
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#21 Megan Blocker

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 10:32 AM

An article on CityLimits.org traces the Saigon Grill and Ollie's strikes back to their roots, a court ruling in favor of some employees of 88 Palace on E. Broadway:

Eleven waiters, captains and busboys of 88 Palace Restaurant, on East Broadway, sued their employers for taking one quarter of their tips and paying below-minimum wages. In Heng Chan v. Sung Yue Tung Corp. (a/k/a 88 Palace Restaurant), U.S. District Court Judge Gerard Lynch ruled on Feb. 1 that the 15 percent “banquet service charge” – an extra gratuity commonly charged in Chinatown restaurants for large parties – is a tip and the employer may not pocket the sum. Lynch's opinion said the customer often assumed the extra charges were tips for servers. The workers were awarded close to $700,000 in back compensation.

Click here for the full text.
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#22 maggiethecat

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 10:44 AM

I have a friend whose son delivers pizza for a local chain and gets paid nothing by his employers -- he lives on tips alone. That doesn't seem to be the case here.

In Illinois the minimum for waitstaff, busboys and delivery people is 3.90, and employers are required to assign tips to bring them to minimum wage, "Tips to Minimum" in payroll lingo. This doesn't happen. A lot.

Waiters make out fine, but there have been several high profile cases in Chicago concerning buysboys being shorted scandalously. I'm sure this happens with delivery people too.

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#23 Fat Guy

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 09:00 AM

The New York Times yesterday did a more detailed piece on the Asian restaurant delivery labor situation. One interesting bit of information:

The deliverymen’s movement has picked up steam for numerous reasons, among them that many of the workers hail from the same towns in Fujian Province and often compare notes. And they have been emboldened by strikes and lawsuits that improved wages at some restaurants in Chinatown, giving them hope of obtaining similar raises at restaurants uptown.


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#24 Fat Guy

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Posted 26 April 2007 - 07:56 AM

Per an article in Metro linked from Eater, legal action has now struck the restaurant Republic:

Ji D. You, a delivery man for the popular noodle eatery Republic, works 12-hour days, six days a week, and earns roughly $2.40 an hour without receiving overtime.

Though he’s been working this way for more than two years, You, along with seven other deliverymen, decided to take legal action — just as workers at Saigon Grill, Ollie’s Noodle Shop and Grill and Our Place have done recently.

They filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against Republic, alleging wage violations.


and

More lawsuits against trendy Manhattan restaurants for violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law are in the pipeline, according to Kenneth Kimmerling, legal director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is representing Republic’s deliverymen.

http://ny.metro.us/m...rymen/8195.html
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#25 Fat Guy

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 05:53 PM

So I went by Saigon Grill (Upper West Side) today. We just couldn't go on without green papaya salad. I mean, my journalistic duty required it. Anyway, before going I did some Googling to see if there was any new info, and found the Boycott Saigon Grill blog: http://boycottsaigon...l.blogspot.com/

At the restaurant, things were quite busy. I was pretty surprised to find the place so vibrant. I don't know what the protest schedule is, but as I've mentioned I've never actually seen the protesters at the Upper West Side location. In the bag was another note from Simon Nget. Same points made as before. There was, however, one nice touch at the end:

I want to offer you a very special kind of dumpling for free to show you my appreciation for your business. It is from my family's secret recipe that nobody has ever served. The dumpling is called "Chai Guo." The dough is made with rice flour, one filling with oriental chive, another with cabbage, pork and dry shrimp. The "Chai Guo" is made by my 79 years old mother, my wife and I. Enjoy, and we want to thank you for your patronage.


The chive ones were superb, the cabbage-pork ones were just okay -- the dry shrimp flavor wasn't exactly used with finesse. I hadn't read the handout when I unpacked our order, so I thought something had been included by mistake. Eventually I reconciled all the information.
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#26 Megan Blocker

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Posted 05 October 2007 - 09:32 AM

According to the New York Times, the National Labor Relations Board has filed charges against the owners of Saigon Grill for firing the 22 employees who organized the strike.

The federal labor board said that the two Saigon Grill restaurants, among the city’s most highly rated Asian restaurants, had illegally retaliated against the workers because they had banded together to assert their rights.

The case will now go before an administrative law judge, with the labor board asking that the deliverymen be reinstated and be given back pay and that Saigon Grill pledge not to engage in future retaliation or intimidation.


I wonder if the charges will stick, and, if so, what the repercussions might be around the city?
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#27 donbert

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 06:16 AM

Looks like there's some progress in the case:

In a decision made public on Wednesday, Judge Ray Green concluded that Simon Nget, the restaurants’ owner, had illegally retaliated against the workers, all of them immigrants from China, by firing them because they were planning to bring a wage and hour lawsuit against him.

.
.
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Judge Green ordered Saigon Grill to pay the workers for all the wages they had not received since their dismissal. He also ordered the deliverymen reinstated within 14 days, but that order could be suspended by an appeal by Saigon Grill.



My guess is that he'll appeal and this will drag out longer but I hope that it gets resolved soon.

Full Article here can be found on the NY Times website.

#28 Fat Guy

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 11:18 AM

$4.6 million judgment against Saigon Grill.

Edited to add: I saw this on Grub Street a couple of days ago, then yesterday the story was on the front page of the New York Post ("Fall of Saigon") and there was the above-linked feature in the Times. It was covered in other outlets as well.

Assuming the judgment represents a correct application of the law to the facts then it will send a huge signal to the industry that you can't get away with substandard treatment of your workers just because you're an ethnic restaurant.
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#29 Dave the Cook

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Posted 24 October 2008 - 09:35 PM

Saturday's New York Times features an op-ed column by Steven Shaw (aka Fat Guy), titled "Pork Fried Abuse," on the take-out lawsuit situation:

But what did all this mean for my dinner? My first selfish reaction when I learned of the Saigon Grill strike was alarm at no longer being able to sit around in my underwear and order No. 19 (goi du du, green papaya salad with beef). But the situation got me thinking.

He concludes:

The last thing anybody wants to do during hard economic times is pay more for anything, but takeout’s hidden costs are greater than the couple of extra dollars that pork fried rice will cost under a more responsible system.


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#30 robyn

robyn
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  • 3,577 posts

Posted 30 October 2008 - 04:24 PM

I posted this in the wrong section of the forum - but was directed to this thread (I don't read the New York forum because I don't live there - or visit often). Anyway - here is what I wrote in relevant part:

"I very much enjoyed [the] op-ed piece in the NYT about take-out delivery people from Chinese restaurants in New York getting sc*****. It is probably a true observation about people who deliver all kinds of the food all over the US.

Without getting into politics (OT) - I just want to say that it is important IMO to deal justly with the "working poor" people we meet personally in our lives. Pay decent salaries and give nice bonuses if you employ people. Give good tips. Etc.

It is very easy to vote for X who promises who to do Y for people like this - but there is nothing like putting Z dollars directly in their pockets yourself. Keep this in mind as the holiday season approaches. I have to laugh - because one of my most hated things to do during the holiday season is to pass out Christmas gifts to the people who collect our garbage and recycling. Not that I mind the money. I just hate waking up at 7 am and standing outside with a bunch of envelopes in what is pretty cold weather for north Florida.

Anyway - for everyone here - get a bunch of tens and twenties and hand them out liberally - to the people who deliver your Chinese food - and those who do similar things for you. Robyn"

Edited by robyn, 30 October 2008 - 04:25 PM.