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Workers at iconic Mission restaurant, La Taqueria, won $600K and changes to workplace in 2016

May 3, 2022 Cases & Campaigns

This year, Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus turns 50. We’re taking a look back at inspiring cases and campaigns from our history, including those that continue to shape our legal services, advocacy, and community outreach today.

La Taqueria in San Francisco is known across the country for its iconic Mission-style burritos. But behind the scenes, workers faced unsavory labor violations.

In 2016, a small group of current and former employees at La Taqueria approached Young Workers United (YWU, now Trabajadores Unidos Workers United), a local grassroots worker center and frequent partner with ALC, about workplace practices. They came forward because they were tired of working10 hour shifts without overtime pay and being denied sick pay and health care contributions required by state and local laws.

The workers who stepped forward were young immigrant women who spoke limited English. All but one were single working moms with young children to support. Despite these vulnerabilities, once the workers learned more about their rights, they were determined to organize. They wanted to fight for their co-workers and try to win unpaid overtime paid sick leave, and health care contributions for all affected workers at the restaurant, including those too scared to speak out against their current employer.

YWU and the workers came to Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus for legal support. In 2017, YWU filed claims on the workers’ behalf with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office and the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement . The labor agencies launched workplace-wide investigations, determining that La Taqueria owed more than $500,000 to more than 30 affected employees.

A group of about 20 community members and leaders holding up a fist for victory and holding banners that read "Chinese Progressive Association", "Asian Law Caucus", and "Young Workers United"

Asian Law Caucus and community partners celebrated a powerful victory for former La Taqueria employees who won a settlement for a series of labor violations.

“What I’ve learned more than anything is that if you stay quiet, you can’t change anything."

Cristina, a former employee who organized her fellow workers at La Taqueria

“What I’ve learned more than anything is that if you stay quiet, you can’t change anything,” said Cristina, a former employee who organized her fellow workers at La Taqueria. “It was hard, but I knew that if we didn’t do something, the problems would continue. Now people who continue to work there have benefits that they didn’t have before. You have to carry the strength you have with you so that you go out with what you want and to fight for what you want.”

The restaurant eventually paid nearly $500,000 and improved its pay practices.

This victory, however, was tempered by La Taqueria’s firing of two workers who had helped their co-workers organize. We immediately filed retaliation claims against the restaurant on their behalf.

Thanks to community support and the workers’ perseverance, La Taqueria ultimately agreed to settle those retaliation claims. As part of that settlement, La Taqueria agreed to offer the workers reinstatement and paid them all the wages they would have made had they not been unlawfully fired, plus thousands of dollars in retaliation penalties. La Taqueria also agreed to post a notice in the workplace informing current employees about their workplace rights, including the right to be free from retaliation, to read the posting aloud during a staff meeting, and to pay for a third-party workplace rights training during paid work time for all restaurant staff.

Workers told us they were proud of the back pay they won for their co-workers and for the restaurant reforms they made possible. As working moms, they were particularly proud that working parents at the restaurant would now have access to legally-required paid time off to care for their children and other loved ones when they’re sick.

Learn more about our workers' rights program and other successful worker campaigns.