May 7, 2004

Pizzeria Settles

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The New York State Attorney General’s office reached a settlement in a labor dispute against Collegetown Pizzeria last month. The dispute, which was publicized on campus with a rally in October, arose over allegations that the restaurant forced employees to work overtime for less than minimum wage and provided inadequate housing in the restaurant’s basement.

Under the settlement, which was reached on April 15, Collegetown Pizza owner Khalid Attia will pay $7,230 in back pay to workers and allow employees who have worked at the pizzeria for over a year to take sick and personal days. In addition, the pizzeria will be subject to government monitoring.

According to Pete Meyers of the Tompkins County Workers’ Rights Center, the group first learned of the infractions through a connection between a former employee at the pizzeria and the president of the Latino Civic Association, which is part of the Living Wage Coalition. The Workers’ Rights Center then encouraged the former employee to bring other employees, who were still working at the restaurant, to the center.

When the Workers’ Rights Center confronted about the allegations, Attia denied that the man had ever worked at the pizzeria, Meyers said. The Workers’ Rights Center then asked for proof of any employees working there, but Attia did not have acceptable documentation, said Meyers.

“That was really the tip off for us, the fact that he didn’t have any evidence that he had any workers at all, which would obviously be impossible — if only for tax purposes,” Meyers said.

The Workers’ Rights Center then took the case to the Attorney General’s office, which investigated the case. Maritere Arce press officer of the Attorney General explained that the investigation involved “looking at the actual payroll, and of course talking to both parties.”

Michael Casaus grad, former co-chair of the Latino/a Grad Student Coalition, added that there were also allegations of verbal abuse against workers, but that these were not investigated.

Attia could not be reached for comment by The Sun, but in an Ithaca Journal article he denied the allegations. He also said that drivers made more than minimum wage once tips were factored in and denied allegations of housing workers in the basement. Attia said that instead he rented an apartment to house two to three workers and paid utilities himself.

For Casaus, however, the fact that he reached a settlement casts doubt on his denials.

“I was unhappy about that,” Casaus said. “Attia went so far as to make the allegation that the workers were coached, which was totally false,” he added.

Meyers said that the workers he has spoken to seem to be satisfied with the settlement’s outcome. He also said he is confident that the settlement will have an affect on the pizzeria, and added that the case sends a message to other businesses in the area.

“When we have a public case like this, we want to make a big deal of it, to let employers know they can’t get away with things like this,” he said.

The settlement with the Collegetown Pizzeria was not the only recent labor case in the area. Several weeks before that settlement, the Workers’ Rights Coalition held a press conference announcing a settlement with a local Kinko’s copy center which had been accused of deleting workers’ overtime hours.

According to Arce, the settlement with Collegetown Pizzeria simply forces the restaurant to comply with existing labor laws.

“They are bound by New York State labor laws, and this is what the settlement seeks to enforce,” she said.

She added that any workers who feel they are being abused should report their complaints either to the Attorney General or the Labor Bureau.

Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun Staff Writer