UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan (PIX11) – Workers are calling for the boycott of an Upper West Side restaurant because of claims of wage theft allegedly totaling $1 million. Employees of the restaurant and their supporters rallied outside Swagat on Amsterdam Avenue on Tuesday morning.
Two employees are suing owners Lala Sharma and Abishek Sharma for “failure to pay minimum wage and overtime pay, failure to pay spread of hours compensation, and making unlawful deductions,” according to the complaint.
Francisco De Dios is one of those workers.
“When nobody [came] to work, they [called] me and they [paid] me only $25 for 12 hours,” de Dios said through a translator.
De Dios wears many hats in the restaurant, from a dishwasher, prep cook, to delivery. He also cleans the restaurant. He started working there in 2014 and said he makes $300 a week and many times puts in 80 hours. This equals less than $4 an hour.
Samantha Isales is a member of National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, an organization that advocates for workers’ rights.
“Our bosses think that they can steal our wages, and it goes unpunished, and that is why they continue doing it,” Isales said.
Protestors are demanding labor laws be strengthened through the passage of the SWEAT bill, which stands for Securing Wages Earned Against Theft. The bill was introduced for a second time and supporters believe it will make it easier for workers in New York State to recover stolen wages and hold business owners accountable.
The group also specifically called out the NYC Hospitality Alliance for not supporting the bill. The Alliance is a nonprofit association that serves and represents restaurants and nightlife establishments. It does not represent Swagat, but a spokesperson told PIX11 News in a statement:
“We are not familiar with the specific situation at Swagat restaurant, but if the accusations are true, they are reprehensible and legal action should be taken against this business so employees are properly compensated. The proposed SWEAT bill, also known as the ‘Guilty Until Proven Innocent Bill’ removes legal, due process rights for small business owners, employees, and investors in small businesses, and it has already been vetoed due to its unconstitutional nature. Our organization trains thousands of restaurants in labor law compliance and these efforts to slander us for political gain are unjustified and very troublesome.”
PIX11 News attempted to reach the owners of Swagat, but no one answered multiple phone calls. The restaurant also remained closed for much of the afternoon while PIX11 News was there for hours.
While the lawsuit continues, the employees suing the establishment plan to continue working at Swagat and participate in more demonstrations to garner additional support against wage theft.