SAN FRANCISCO – In a much-anticipated decision, 230 workers must be paid over $2.2 million in stolen wages and penalties, according to a decision issued by the California Labor Commissioner’s office.
The decision comes after a 13-day hearing between April and June 2022, during which eight former employees testified about the onerous and unlawful working conditions they endured at five Burger King restaurants in San Francisco. One worker described his time working at Burger King as a “brutal experience.”
In the decision, issued Dec. 19, the Labor Commissioner found that Monu Singh, Harkiran “Romi” Randhawa, and their Burger King restaurant franchise known as Golden Gate Restaurant Group, Inc. owe workers over $724,000 in wages, plus over $371,000 in interest and an additional $1.2 million in penalties.
“I am happy that justice is being served, and that the state has decided to hold the Burger King franchise owners accountable to workers,” said Daniel Marini, a former San Francisco Burger King employee. “We have been fighting hard to get back the wages rightfully owed to us. I hope this sends a message to other workers: don’t be afraid, if something is wrong and you’re being exploited, you can stand up, speak out, and win.”
Trabajadores Unidos Workers United and Legal Aid at Work have worked directly with the former Burger King workers to both document the labor violations at the restaurant and support workers throughout the Labor Commissioner’s investigation. TUWU has helped Burger King workers seek justice and accountability, and workers have organized actions outside of Burger King locations and held events to demand fair treatment, respect, and compliance with the law. Legal Aid at Work has provided legal assistance to workers and the organizing campaign.
At the hearing, which was held after franchise owners Mr. Singh and Mr. Randhawa appealed a 2020 citation, former employees recounted how they were regularly pressured to work off the clock and through their meal and rest breaks because of severe understaffing at the stores. Even though they worked long overtime hours, they were told to clock in and out according to their posted schedules, and were underpaid as a result.
Franchise owners Mr. Singh and Mr. Randhawa created and enforced strict company policies that pressured employees to work off the clock, in order to cut costs and avoid paying workers’ full wages. Under California law, individual business owners can be personally liable for wage theft that happens under their watch.
The Labor Commissioner’s decision found that Mr. Singh and Mr. Randhawa, through their franchise, failed to pay workers for all of their hours, failed to pay overtime compensation and failed to provide meal and rest breaks. The decision said: “The practices that led to the assessment of such large sums of wages, damages, and penalties on Golden Gate Restaurant Group [the franchisee] stem directly from the decisions of Mr. Singh and Mr. Randhawa [and their] policy of controlling ‘labor costs’ as a principle that overrode compliance with California labor law.”
“They were pushing goals and policies that made this happen,” said Sonia Crisostomo, another former employee, of the franchise owners. “They knew what they were doing, and it’s important that they take responsibility.”
“This decision is proof that when workers speak up and demand that their rights are respected, employers will be held to account for wage theft and other illegal practices,” said Alexx Campbell, an attorney at Legal Aid at Work. “Other fast food franchises and employers across the state should take note that attempts to cut costs by shirking California’s employment protections will not go unpunished.”
These amounts must be paid within 45 days, unless Mr. Singh and Mr. Randhawa choose to appeal the decision. If they do appeal, they will need to post a bond for $822,524.32, which includes all minimum wages, all overtime pay, and part of the penalties they owe.
The Labor Commissioner’s Office may be reached for comment on the decision by contacting the California Department of Industrial Relations’ External Affairs Office, at [email protected].
Trabajadores Unidos Workers United, formed in 2002, is a multi-racial and bilingual membership organization dedicated to improving the quality of jobs for immigrant workers in the low-wage service sector through organizing.
Legal Aid at Work is a San Francisco-based non-profit legal services organization dedicated to strengthening and enforcing workers’ rights.