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Dim Sum Restaurant Workers Win $4 Million Settlement

In the world of immigrant workers, grassroots organizations, lawyers, labor officials, and in this case, the owners of an award-winning dim sum restaurant in San Francisco, there is proof that diverse groups can voluntarily reach an agreement involving money.

In this case, it’s a $4 million settlement that covers wage issues and benefits – and it favors about 280 current and former employees of Yank Sing, a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco.

The agreement not only covers back pay for Chinese immigrant workers at the restaurant but it also sets a model that offers them paid vacation, health care and benefits that are above what the law mandates, the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) announced Wednesday.

The various parties attributed this labor-business agreement to workers who stood up for themselves and “forward thinking by a committed family run business.”

“Low-wage workers are often afraid to speak out. But thanks to my co-workers’ unity and collective action, we have made big changes in our workplace,” a Yank Sing worker identified as Mrs. Wu said in a statement.

“Through our campaign, the employer listened to workers’ voices and now, we have higher wages and benefits such as health care and paid vacation. Most importantly, we are treated with greater respect.”

The campaign started last year after Yank Sing workers approached CPA, a San Francisco community organization, for help in addressing what they said were labor problems at the restaurant.

In just a few months, about 100 restaurant workers had joined the campaign to address those problems. Attorneys with San Francisco-based Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and local and state labor authorities also took note of the case.

The Wednesday agreement was the result – and community groups are hailing it as a victory for the immigrant workers.

“We are so honored to partner with Yank Sing workers, whose campaign is an inspiration to workers everywhere, and we commend Yank Sing owners for leading new model standards in San Francisco’s competitive restaurant industry,” Shaw San Liu, a representative of CPA, said in a statement.

Under the agreement, Yank Sing will support base wage increases, holiday and vacation pay, paid health care for full-time employees, a workers’ compliance committee, education regarding labor rights and other commitments to “empower” workers, the groups said in a statement.

“We are proud to lead the industry as a model of how a restaurant and family business can be successful while working towards a living wage and providing the benefits our workers need to achieve success in life,” Henry Chan, a Yank Sing co-owner, said in a statement.

“We know we made some mistakes in the past, but we are working hard to ensure our employees have these crucial benefits and strive everyday to constantly improve our workplace.”

Added Winifred Kao, the lead attorney on the case for Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus: “The restaurant industry is rife with workplace abuses. Immigrant workers are often particularly vulnerable….We’re proud to have stood with workers who overcame those barriers and had the courage to stand up and push for change.”

The Yank Sing owners, Kao said, also did something different, especially in a world filled with litigation, attorneys and accusations. They were willing to talk with the workers, attorneys and community group before any lawsuit was filed.

This story was originally published on Nov. 19, 2014.


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