The County of Santa Clara will soon expand an enforcement program aimed at collecting owed wages for food workers. In the coming months, the County will start reaching out to business owners who have not paid their wage theft judgments issued by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office to encourage compliance before their food permits become suspended, specifically in the newly expanded areas of Milpitas and San José.
“Running a good business means treating both your customers and your employees with respect and dignity,” said County of Santa Clara Supervisor Cindy Chavez. “Wage theft adversely impacts our community and is known to disproportionately affect immigrants, women, and low-wage workers. It is incumbent upon us to help educate businesses and workers on their rights and responsibilities and enforce the laws that guide and protect them.”
The County’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) and Department of Environmental Health (DEH) established the Food Permit Wage Theft Enforcement Program to address unlawful labor practices particularly wage theft in Santa Clara County by leveraging County authority to suspend food permits from permit holders with unpaid wage theft judgments. The latest expansion means the County can now increase enforcement to over 65% of the County’s food permit holders, with hopes that an education-first model, paired with real consequences, will nudge businesses into compliance to ensure that food workers are paid in full for their work.
“The Office of Labor Standards Enforcement was created to fight unlawful labor practices and promote a fair and healthy economy for workers, businesses, and residents,” said County of Santa Clara Supervisor Otto Lee. “The laws protecting workers are only as effective as their enforcement. If things go wrong and businesses skirt their obligations, we want the workers to know that there are people who will advocate on their behalf and use the tools available to compel corrective action.”
While some businesses may find themselves on the wrong side of an unpaid wage judgment, many organizations, such as Parktown Pizza Company in Milpitas, act as a model for how a successful retail food vendor can, and should, operate – even through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Like other businesses, we found ourselves needing to pivot our operations to keep our doors open,” said Neil Meharu, owner of Parktown Pizza Company. “When we couldn’t welcome people inside the restaurant, we continued serving our customers through a window on our storefront. We expanded our hours and operations to keep our valued staff employed and paid on time. We made our people our priority, and because of that, we have come through even stronger.”
OLSE works with community partners to provide resources and educate local businesses on labor standards and laws. Once OLSE becomes aware of an outstanding unpaid judgment against a retail food permit holder, OLSE works with the permit holder to bring the business into compliance, which could include setting up a payment plan.
“We are making this announcement now to allow businesses the opportunity to resolve their judgments before enforcement begins in October. For those businesses that need to resolve an existing labor judgment, we want to make it known that there is a path forward by working together with the County,” said OLSE Manager Jessie Yu.
The Food Permit Enforcement Program began in 2019 in Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and two central zip codes in San José (95112 and 95113), which included over 2200 permit holders. The upcoming expansion into Milpitas and the remaining zip codes in San José will add an estimated 3,700 food permit holders to the Program, totaling over 5,900 food permit facilities.
Between December 2019 and March 2020, the Program engaged eight retail food facilities, achieved 100% compliance from all facilities, and collected over $50,000 in outstanding unpaid worker wages until the Program was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For questions or information about labor violations or compliance, workers and businesses can contact the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement or call the free legal Advice Line staffed by Attorneys at 1-866-870-7725.