standard Indictment Spotlights Workers in the Shadows

Restaurant workers in midtown Manhattan.

Restaurant workers in midtown Manhattan. (Photo by Matthew Taub).

They work for a mere five dollars an hour, with frequent requests by employers to stay late, or perform additional tasks outside their job description. Their tips are often stolen, if they exist at all. A portion of their wages frequently go unpaid.

For those in the restaurant industry’s shadow economy—catering, busing, cooking and delivery— the story of the workers who brought a civil suit against Michael Grimm is all too common.

Michael Faillace, an employment lawyer, represented claimants in a civil suit against Michael Grimm.

Michael Faillace, an employment lawyer, represented claimants in a civil suit against Michael Grimm. (Photo by Matthew Taub).

“Every restaurant does it,” said Michael Faillace, an employment lawyer who represented the claimants in the civil suit against Congressman Grimm. “Healthalicious was no different than any other place.”

The suit started before Grimm ran for office and was settled last year. But it now forms the basis of a criminal indictment against him. In the meantime, it has cast a spotlight an exploited underground workforce.

Mr. Faillace, assisting such workers through lawsuits against their employers, has remained in brisk business. An unrelenting stream of clients poured in through his East Midtown doors Thursday afternoon. Once an office manager inquired, most acknowledged they were “de boca,” hearing of the attorney through word of mouth.

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“Arturo” (left) and another worker biding their time while waiting to see Mr. Faillace. (Photo by Matthew Taub).

“Arturo,” was one of them. “I’m from Mexico,” he added. Like most workers in the industry, he was undocumented, and therefore nervous about drawing attention to himself. He spoke to this reporter only after some hesitation.

Arturo explained he was most recently employed at a rather prominent catering hall, where they tried to keep him late after his shift, performing cleaning work after events. On top of all that, he was paid only five dollars an hour, despite there being no opportunity to earn tips in his position. He had come to Mr. Faillace’s office with his employer ID—proof of his position that might otherwise be denied once a lawsuit was commenced.

“Every employer has an obligation to keep records,” said Rosa Maria de la Torra, Mr. Faillace’s office manager. “But most places either don’t have adequate records or purposefully didn’t list them as employees.” So the job ID, which most employers give out as a matter of convenience or security, is their main proof (other than their testimony) to substantiate their claims.

Bicycles idle,

Bicycles idled in docked position before the primetime dinner hours. (Photo by Matthew Taub).

Last year, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman investigated whether the owners of several fast-food restaurants across eight counties cheated their workers out of wages, culminating in a $23 million settlement with the parent corporation, Domino’s Pizza, just last month.

But to Mr. Faillace, the pattern of abuse shows no sign of ebbing.

“I wish the U.S. attorneys would go after these bastards,” he offered unapologetically.

This article is part of a series. Related articles appear below.


 

Congressman Michael Grimm (Wikimedia Commons)

Congressman Michael Grimm (Wikimedia Commons)

Brooklyn Brief: The Indictment of Congressman Michael Grimm

A synopsis of the indictment, its ramifications, the political fallout and polarized reaction (largely along party lines).


 

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Indictment Spotlights Workers in the Shadows

They work for five dollars an hour, with frequent requests to stay late, or perform additional tasks. Their tips are often stolen and their wages can go unpaid. For those in the restaurant industry’s shadow economy—catering, busing, cooking and delivery— the story of the workers who brought a civil suit against Michael Grimm is all too common.


 

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“Please! Everybody and their mother is in this.”

Michael Faillace represented the “Healthalicious” workers in a civil lawsuit. He is colorfully combative and unrepentant in his disgust for most restaurant owners, along with the opposing attorneys they retain. But he actually feels bad for the indicted congressman, who he believes was targeted as a “big cheese,” while abuses remain rampant. He is also fond of the use of expletives.


 

Cast of Characters

Two Years Chasing a Tight-Lipped Cast of Characters

The initial, unsuccessful investigation of the congressman lasted two years and centered on suspicious funding for his 2010 election campaign. Many of Grimm’s business associates and other contacts were pursued during this time, often booked on separate but related charges, and pressured to testify against him. It appears few of them did.


Stanley Cohen

With the Power to Indict, the Power to Condemn

It’s not just the Congressman’s case that’s suspect: prosecutions across the political and cultural spectrum are dogged by similar accusations.

 


 

Richardson_Law_021914_524

Expert Check-in: Charges are Warranted

Morghan Richardson, Esq., a criminal defense and divorce attorney, analyzes the charges. Despite the likely ubiquity of the activities alleged in the restaurant industry, the claim that the congressman maintained two sets of records was enough for prosecutors to confidently move forward.


For those presently or formerly in the crosshairs, indictments are seen as a pre-text for a political agenda. Jen Gatien recalls how one case after another was pursued to literally run her father–a prominent owner of several Manhattan nightclubs–out of town.