by Mike Liu
In a victory for immigrant Chinese workers at the Golden Dragon Restaurant on Washington St. in San Francisco Chinatown, the owners agreed to pay the wages owed for half a year to about thirty workers. On Sunday, March 20th, five workers, along with the Chinese Progressive Association staff and supporters, showed up to picket the restaurant during a banquet. After first attempting to tear down the picketers’ signs, the owner, in the face of the media present, agreed to abide by the law and pay the minimum wage. To date, $12,000 has been paid out, and the owners have promised to pay additional tens of thousands to the other workers. They also committed to no retaliation against the protesting workers.
The workers had worked without wages for six months, living off their tips. Finally, one of the workers approached CPA, an organization that had a history of fighting for Chinatown workers. They had planned several abortive protests until mounting their successful action Sunday.
CPA estimates that over 10,000 Chinese workers or over 10% of the Chinese community workforce in San Francisco are being paid sub-minimum wages and/or are owed back wages. There are nearly 12,000 Chinese restaurant workers in the city. Gordon Mar, Executive Director, said “We're using this case and others like it to highlight this widespread problem and to push the local government to beef up labor law enforcement. We're working with a few other worker centers to get the City to pass a Minimum Wage Enforcement Ordinance, hopefully this Summer that includes a dedicated funding stream for wage enforcement and creation of a new "community based" wage enforcement model where the City will collaborate with and fund groups like CPA to conduct pro-active worker outreach and organizing.”
San Francisco has set the minimum wage at $8.62 an hour. The law setting the new standards was passed in 2004. CPA was part of a citywide coalition that won passage of the law.