By Virginia Lora
Rush-hour traffic, careless pedestrians and speedy cab drivers are some risks food deliveryman Fernando Lopez faces while rushing around the city on his bike. As he has come to learn working at Flor de Mayo, being overworked, underpaid and mistreated are other hazards.
“They treat us poorly, as if we were slaves,” said Lopez. For working at the popular Upper West Side Chinese-Peruvian restaurant hailed for its Asian-fusion cuisine and affordable prices, he was paid $90 a week for 72 hours of work and was allowed no breaks. “We are doing double the work too; it’s just not fair,” he added, explaining that while working six days a week for 12 hours a day, deliverymen were expected to work as porters, carry groceries and perform janitorial work “on the side.”
Lopez and three other Latino delivery workers, some who have been working there since 2000, made public grievances against Flor de Mayo for minimum wage and overtime law violations, illegal deductions from paychecks and are demanding more than $500,000 in damages in a civil lawsuit filed July 20.
Organized with the help of Justice Will Be Served (JWBS), a campaign against sweatshop conditions in the service industry, Fernando, Venancio Galindo, Gil Santiago and Adolfo Lopez announced their demands during a lunchtime press conference July 24 outside Flor de Mayo, at 484 Amsterdam Ave near W. 84th St. A second Flor de Mayo restaurant is located at 2651 Broadway near W. 100th St.
“We would like better treatment, 40-hour work weeks and one sick day for emergencies,” said Adolfo, facing the crowd who had gathered outside the restaurant. Neither owner Phillip Chu, nor the managers of Flor de Mayo’s two locations, were present at the press conference. The owner and managers declined a request for an interview with The Indypendent.
But if the management could not empathize, the four deliverymen could count on the support of other restaurant workers in the city.
“Us Chinese have to work with the Latinos. Their working conditions are not just comparable to ours, theirs are often worse. We must unite to change conditions for all,” said Xiong Wei Chen, a member of the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, one of the organizations driving the JWBS campaign. The campaign has expanded beyond organizing in the Chinatown area and is now active in New Jersey, upstate New York and Long Island.
The other organizations supporting the campaign are the 318 Restaurant Workers Union and the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS).
STANDING UP FOR RIGHTS
The delivery workers decided to fight for better working conditions after learning that employees at another Manhattan restaurant were speaking out against similar abuses. One of them took a JWBS flier that was being circulated at the demonstration to Flor de Mayo management. Soon after, the restaurant increased their salaries and reduced their hours. The employees allege that the boss acted only with the intention to appease them.
Unsatisfied, Lopez and his co-workers contacted NMASS activists and with their help launched the lawsuit against Flor de Mayo on July 20. In this process, the restaurant owners have three weeks to respond. According to NMASS, at the time The Indypendent went to press, no response by the owners had been filed. However, in an article in El Diario, Chu stated that he is currently paying his workers $4.60, which is minimum wage for positions where tips are expected, adding that, “The past is past. We didn’t know we were supposed to pay them more.”
“In these cases sometimes the boss will try to delay things to intimidate employees and make them give up,” said Maldonado. Workers and organizers will together decide on a strategy and plan of action if no response is received by the deadline. “What happens next depends on what the workers themselves want to do.”
Demonstrations, written notifications to the management and boycotts are tried-and-true measures NMASS has used, as well as supporting other workers in similar situations. This, they say, is of extraordinary importance as it forces employers to take their workers’ demands more seriously.
“In every part of the city there is the same problem because workers do not know their rights,” said Maldonado. NMASS and the Flor de Mayo workers hope this case will encourage others not to be afraid and come forward.