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Wage Theft and Employee Abuses Continue to Plague LA’s Restaurant Scene

KCRW investigates the issues in a new five-part series

Inside the kitchen
flickr/Tim McLaren
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Los Angeles’s most prominent public radio station, KCRW, is turning its investigative lens onto the city’s restaurant scene. A new series titled Burned showcases stories of fraud and abuse that remain rampant in the industry, particularly at the lower levels of a given restaurant’s hierarchy.

In the initial leg of the five-part series, longtime investigative journalist Karen Foshay tackles issues of outright wage fraud, and employees who have been systemically overworked. Foshay talks to many who have been lied to, had their wages withheld, and been forced to work countless hours without overtime pay, which is not only illegal — it steals the livelihoods out from underneath some of Southern California’s hardest-working employees.

Not that those big names are exempt from wage theft; one particularly somber segment has Foshay and UCLA Labor Center policy manager Tia Koonse driving down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, ticking off the restaurants — just on one block — that have been hit with Department of Labor violations.

Of course abuses by ownership, management, and co-workers are nothing new in the restaurant industry, unfortunately. That’s perhaps especially true in major metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, where many workers are "low-skilled, lack education, are undocumented and vulnerable to abuse," says KCRW in a press release on the Burned series.

As LA Observed notes, the series will continue for five days after today, with a new segment being released each day. The first is Wage Theft, followed by Injuries on the Job, You’re Fired: Retaliation, Getting Away With It, and Trafficking. You can even catch a trailer for the Burned series now.

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