In late January, California Labor Commissioner’s Office cited the owners of Genwa Korean BBQ restaurant for violating labor laws that affected 325 dishwashers, servers, and cooks at its Beverly Hills and Mid-Wilshire locations in Los Angeles. The state’s fine is a $2.1 million for a numerous labor violations, including lack of rest and meal breaks, unpaid overtime, and less than minimum wage pay.
Genwa is an upscale restaurant whose locations are distinctly outside of Koreatown, catering to a mix of Korean and non-Korean clientele. Genwa has another location in Downtown’s South Park, but that restaurant is not listed in the lawsuit. Because Genwa is a Korean barbecue restaurant, much of the cooking takes place in front of customers on a tabletop grill, which puts more of the labor focus on service staff. Wage theft and labor issues at Korean barbecues received a spotlight in an Los Angeles Times article last year.
The Labor Commission began investigating in August 2018 after Genwa workers contacted the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance and Bet Tzedek Legal Services to report wage theft at Genwa Beverly Hills and Mid-Wilshire. Investigators audited Genwa’s payroll and discovered the following:
- Full-time staff were required to clock out up to three times per day during an 11 hour shift.
- All Genwa workers were denied legally mandated rest and meal breaks.
- More than half were not paid minimum wage.
- Half of Genwa employees were not given full overtime pay, or provided itemized wage statements.
- Servers were forced to attend quarterly meetings without pay. Some were required to attend these meetings on their scheduled days off.
J.B.K. Wilshire Corporation and Genwa, Inc. and corporate officers Jay and Jin Kwon must pay $1,428,759 in “unpaid wages, overtime, split shift premiums, missed meal periods and rest breaks, liquidated damages and waiting time penalties for the affected employees,” according to a statement by California’s Department of Industrial Relations. In addition, both entities and its officers were fined $633,800 in civil penalties. Workers will receive damages and missing wages, plus interest. The employers have appealed the citations, according the California Labor Commission.
This suit comes during a time when labor and high-profile restaurants are making headlines. San Francisco-based Tartine started promoting anti-union/labor merchandise on its website yesterday. This happened less than a week after Tartine’s owners came out against their SF employee’s unionization efforts.