November 24, 2014
* This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on November 18, 2014.
For 56 years, the Chan family has been serving up tasty dim sum dumplings stuffed with pork and shrimp to throngs of business executives, tourists and San Francisco Bay Area families.
The steamed and fried dishes delivered by stylishly uniformed waiters to diners sitting before white tablecloths at their Yank Sing restaurant have won many accolades, including a coveted James Beard Award in 2009 and favorable listings in the Zagat Survey and Michelin Guide.
But Henry and Judy Chans’ Yank Sing restaurant didn’t fare so well last year with state and city labor inspectors. Investigations and audits, spurred by complaints from dozens of employees — mainly Chinese immigrants who spoke little English — revealed numerous violations of state wage-and-hour laws at their restaurant in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district and a smaller location six blocks away.
“It was all pretty blatant,” said California Labor Commissioner Julie Su, whose staff led the investigation along with the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. Employers often “do not expect their employees to complain. They believe that it’s cheaper to break the law because the chances of getting caught are slim, and the costs of getting caught are minimal.”
“The family was shocked that they weren’t in compliance and was upset,” said Jonathan Glick, Yank Sing’s director of operations. “They wanted to do what they could to fix things as quickly as possible.”
In Los Angeles on Wednesday, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a nonprofit legal aid group, scheduled an announcement of a settlement with restaurants in the El Mercadito complex in Boyle Heights that will pay $220,000 in back wages to more than 60 workers and provide improved sick and vacation leave.
In the past, Li’s workdays at Yank Sing started at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. She earned sub-minimum wages, no overtime pay, intermittent meal breaks and no health insurance or other benefits. There was never enough time to eat or rest, Li said. “We were racing against the clock.”
*Photo by Craig Lee, SF Chronicle