Current and former employees of Burma Superstar filed a lawsuit today on behalf of about 100 kitchen staff at its chain of restaurants on both sides of San Francisco Bay. They allege the owners failed to pay many workers the minimum wage and routinely denied workers overtime pay, breaks, and sick leave they were due.
“We are their workers, but we are also people,” says Mong Tsai Ma, a cook at Burma Superstar in Oakland. “We just want to be treated fairly, and we want them to change their practices.”
“These brave workers have overcome cultural and language barriers to join together in bringing this case, not just for themselves, but also for workers who are too scared to step forward,” says Palyn Hung Mitchell, an attorney with Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus. “We are proud to stand with them in pushing for much-needed reforms in the restaurant industry.”
The allegations fit into an unfortunately widespread pattern of restaurants taking advantage of immigrant workers with limited English skills who are unaware of their rights — or who fear retaliation if they assert their rights. Most or all of the workers the lawsuit aims to cover are immigrants who speak Spanish, Chinese, or Burmese.
“This case specifically alleges wage violations at Burma Superstar, but these allegations reflect a business model that Centro Legal has seen at far too many other restaurants across the Bay Area,” says Jesse Newmark, litigation director at Centro Legal de la Raza. “Especially in increasingly affluent Bay Area neighborhoods, it is unacceptable to boost profits by underpaying low-income workers.”
“Back-of-the-house workers are too often unseen and forgotten,” says Carole Vigne, an attorney and director of LAS-ELC’s Wage Protection Program. “We hope this case brings visibility to the hardworking kitchen staff who feed thousands each week.”
“Burma Superstar kitchen workers work very hard to make the restaurants so successful,” said William Navarrete, a former dishwasher, kitchen helper, and cook at three of the restaurants. “We believe they did not pay us what we were owed. We’re bringing this case to finally get the wages we think are owed to us.”
The lawsuit also claims that the restaurants failed to keep accurate time and pay records or provide accurate wage statements, and that it violated the state’s unfair competition law. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status for their lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court.
The Asian Law Caucus, Centro Legal de la Raza, and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center are representing the workers.