AUSTIN (KVUE) - The U.S. Labor Department announced on Wednesday that 500 Austin restaurant workers will get more than $330,000 in back wages after determining that they were not being properly compensated.
KVUE first reported about the department’s findings Tuesday night.
Wage and Hour Division Administrator David Weil spoke on camera for the first time Wednesday. Weil said he wants this issue to be made public because he wants change.
He gave an example of a story he heard personally.
“I was having breakfast one morning, beautiful day, with a friend, and we were chatting with the waitress on and off in the course of that meal. I asked the waitress about how she was paid, and she said, ‘well, I’m paid in tips.’ And I said, ‘what happens in days when it’s slow?’ She said, ‘well, I don’t get paid much.’ I said, ‘you know that’s illegal!’” he told KVUE.
The Labor Department investigated Austin restaurants and found 95 percent of them failed to pay overtime or even minimum wage. Nationally, the average is 85 to 88 percent.
“We go through the process of following up with the employers, make sure we got enough proof of payment, anything to document that the workers have actually received that we’ve calculated to be due to them,” said U.S. Labor Department Austin District Director Nicole Sellers.
Weil said part of the problem comes from threats of retaliation.
“Workers are sometimes threatened that if they come forward they are going to be reported to immigration, they’re going to have bad things happen as a result of that, that’s why we have to look at an industry like this closely,” he said.
However, from franchises and chains to the ‘mom and pop shops,’ the U.S. Labor Department sees things differently.
“We see restaurant workers in full service restaurants who really are given this deal that you get whatever is paid to you in tips and other than that you’re on your own, and when you think about it, that’s just outrageous. The basic principle of our law is that you are assured a minimum wage,” said Weil.
The Texas Restaurant Association refused to comment on camera, but sent the following statement:
“We take these allegations very seriously, and those who are in violation should be held accountable. However, the Department of Labor has historically portrayed an inaccurate picture of the restaurant industry. In Texas, nearly 43,600 restaurants account for over one million jobs, and the vast majority of those owner/operators are hardworking, law abiding business owners, who are proud to play by the rules.”
-Richie Jackson, CEO, Texas Restaurant Association
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, non-exempt employees must be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 cents an hour, plus time and a half for overtime.