BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
On Feb. 27, a single mother of three rallied outside of Aqui Bella Puebla restaurant in Jackson Heights, asking for justice from the owner, who allegedly owes her tens of thousands in unpaid wages.
Representatives from Make the Road New York, Laborers Local 78, Laborers Local 1010, a spokesperson from Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras’ (D-East Elmhurst) office and low-wage workers gathered to demand an end to wage theft.
Claudia Leon, a native of Mexico, said she worked at the restaurant for more than 40 hours a week without the minimum wage and no overtime pay. On top of that, Leon’s employer, Argimiro “Jimmy” Gio Hernandez, required her to ration her tips with the rest of the employees.
She stayed quiet about her situation for some time in fear of losing her job.
“There are many workers in the City that are dealing with this issue of wage theft,” she said. “Many of us have stayed quiet for the fear that we may lose our jobs or not be heard.”
Leon is open about her fight against Hernandez now because she said her employer “cannot and will not continue to steal my wages or the wages of other workers in this restaurant.”
“No employer in any industry should be allowed to get away with this,” Leon added.
Sebastian Sanchez, a staff attorney at Make the Road NY, said Leon’s case has been assigned to a private law firm because they have tried to contact Hernandez and his attorney on multiple occasions, but were left with a lack of communication.
“It had become very apparent to us that without litigation, there would be no resolution,” Sanchez said.
“We tried to negotiate with the employer for about four months,” he said. “We gave him every opportunity to provide documents that supported his position. But after two meetings, it became very apparent that he was just stringing us along.”
Sanchez said the chances of recovering wages are a lot higher when a case goes for litigation.
“At the very least, she should be able to walk out of a case that is litigated in Federal Court with an order from the Judge with how much money she is owed,” Sanchez said.
Ferreras’ spokesperson said the Councilwoman is disappointed to learn of the alleged wage theft that occurred in her district.
“No one should ever have to remain silent when they are experiencing this type of injustice for the fear that they may lose their job,” Ferreras said in her statement. “Our hard-working constituents deserve to have a workplace free of intimidation, fear and exploitation.”
Ferreras urges anyone who has experienced wage theft or any other type of workplace injustice to come forward and report it to her office at (718) 651-1917.
Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Tsakhuja13.