I think any employer who can get away with it is practicing some form of wage theft at this point, whether it’s stealing tips or misclassifying workers as independent contractor to avoid paying their taxes:
On May 1, International Worker’s Day, a half circle of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) members and supporters surrounded the entrance to Fat Salmon, a high-end sushi restaurant in Philadelphia. They watched as Diana A. (she asked her last name not be used) walked into the restaurant to deliver a prepared statement denouncing, among other things, what some workers have described as an intricate system for stealing their tips.
Diana and two other workers have been “on strike” since last April 15, when they confronted the restaurant’s owner, Jack Yoo, with a similar statement listing their grievances. The May Day document included the names of four other employees who are still working but signed on in support. (Fat Salmon workers are not unionized, but the National Labor Relations Act protects any worker, union or not, who “engage in…concerted activities for the purpose of… mutual aid or protection.”)
Before Diana entered the restaurant, the small crowd listened as another striking employee read from the statement. “While Fat Salmon excels in its food, it falls short in its treatment of the people who prepare and serve the food,” said Claire T., who says that after working there for a year and a half, she has only recently began receiving 100 percent of tips she earned. “We the workers of Fat Salmon have suffered numerous legal violations and affronts to our dignity.”
The workers’ chief complaint is what they say is a complex system for assessing payment, which includes docking a certain percentages of a worker’s tips based on menu test scores. While it is common practice to test servers on a restaurant’s offerings, Fat Salmon workers describe an unusual four-tiered system of pay penalties: Servers who pass a test on the beverage offerings may take home 70 percent of their tips, those who pass a short menu test take home 80 percent, those who pass a long menu test receive 90 percent and, finally, a lengthy and complex full menu test is required to keep 100 percent. Yoo allegedly allows the tests to be taken only at periodic intervals, denying workers the opportunity to quickly level up. According to the workers, this means that many labor for months or years without receiving all of the money left by customers for their service. Diana says she worked full time for three months before passing all four tests and estimates she lost between $600 and $1,000.