Student workers declare victory over Yale's 'sweatshop' eatery - WNEM TV 5

Student workers declare victory over Yale 'sweatshop' Gourmet Heaven

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(WFSB photo) (WFSB photo)
NEW HAVEN, CT (WFSB) -

They're calling it a victory against a sweatshop.

Students and community members rallied Thursday morning in New Haven following the announced closure of Yale's on-campus deli, Gourmet Heaven.

Workers at the deli claimed the business paid them less than $6 per hour since August 2013.

Since then, students have boycotted it.

Standing out in front of the business, Adin Morales called their action a warning to those who mistreat workers. He said he was one of Gourmet Heaven's underpaid workers.

"Some people were making less than $5 an hour and working 72 hours a week," said James Bhandary-Alexander of New Haven Legal Assistance Association, who is representing former Gourmet Heaven workers.

In fact, the labor department said a two-year audit revealed 15 workers were underpaid.

"During one two-year period, the Department of Labor found $218,000 in unlawfully withheld wages," Bhandary-Alexander said. "But the total amount stolen over the life of the business likely tops $1 million."

Chung Cho, the deli's owner, was in New Haven Superior Court. He faces more than 50 counts of minimum wage violations.

Yale said it was cutting its lease with the business, meaning the 24-hour deli will close its two locations on Broadway and Whitney Avenue next June.

"It sends a strong message that any business that has a lease with Yale will have to abide by the law and treat their workers properly," Evelyn Nunez said.

While prosecutors move forward against Chung, current Gourmet Heaven workers claim their old colleagues simply had an ax to grind. They said the charges are made up.

"He never paid us like what they said on the news, $4 an hour," said Alejandro Cardenas, a current Gourmet Heaven worker. "You really think we'd be working here for $4 an hour?"

With the future of their jobs up in the air, workers defended their boss and even produced pay stubs.

"They don't think about us," Laura Corpus said. "We need our jobs, we're good at our jobs. I like this place, been here for six years."

When asked about the dozens of charges against Chung, they had no answer.

"Really the best thing an employer can do in a situation like this is just pay the workers what the law requires," Bhandary-Alexander said.

Workers and activists said Thursday that they planned to ask city officials for a wage theft policy.

"We are simply asking the New Haven police to address this crime wave and collaborate with the Department of Labor to enforce the existing Connecticut statutes that criminalize wage theft and retaliation," said Megan Fountain, a volunteer organizer with the Unidad Latina en Accion.

Chung has not commented on the allegations.

Copyright 2014 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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