Twenty-four Madison-area businesses withheld more than $700,000 from their workers, according to a U.S. Department of Labor investigation. The biggest offender is Laredo’s Mexican restaurant.
It owes a little more than $400,000 in back wages to mainly immigrant workers such as Jorge Cruz, who spent 10 months as a server at Laredo’s Mexican restaurant.
“Taking care of people, welcoming the customers, but at the same time (I was) in the back cleaning,” Cruz said. “I worked 50, 60, 70 hours a week.”
The hard work he put into the restaurant’s east side location was not reflected in his paycheck.
“We would get zeros. We have nothing in the check,” Cruz said.
Cruz said he was frequently only paid in tips.
“They make the argument that we make all of our money from tips, so our checks cover our taxes,” Cruz said.
In addition to only being paid in tips, Cruz said he was never paid overtime. This resulted in $6,000 in lost wages.
“It’s the money we need to pay rent, buy food,” Cruz said.
Cruz is now working for the Department of Labor and Madison advocacy group, Workers’ Rights Center, to recover all of his back wages.
“In the restaurant industry in particular we see just rampant wage and hour violations,” Patrick Hickey, director of Workers’ Rights Center, said.
Workers’ Rights Center has helped recover more than $1 million from area businesses that owe back wages. It is an honest mistake for some owners, but not many.
“We see where it is intentional, where it’s part of the business model,” Hickey said. “They will basically try to steal wages from those workers.”
For stealing Laredo’s only legal punishment is to pay back what was originally owed.
“If I want to go into a 7/Eleven and take at a candy bar I would be put in jail and when an employer steals $400,000 from their employees there is no criminal prosecution,” Hickey said.
An injustice, Cruz said he can’t wrap his head around.
“They’re just going to pay me back this money and that’s it?” Cruz said with chuckle.
Workers, regardless of their immigration status, are protected under fair labor standards acts. News 3 did reach out to Laredo’s, our calls were not returned.
If you want to ensure you are eating at a responsible restaurant ask a manager about their practices, and tip with cash. Here is the Downtown Madison Restaurant Standards Guide