Delivery workers at Saigon Grill, a Vietnamese mini-chain popular among NYU students, are striking over conditions they call abusive and wages they say are less than $2 an hour. The delivery workers have been picketing daily since Wednesday, March 7, alternating between the Saigon Grill at 90th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and the restaurant's other location at 91 University Place.
After discovering workers' plans to unionize and file a lawsuit, Saigon Grill locked them out of both locations.
Campaign representative Tony Tsai told NYU Washington Square News Saigon Grill delivery workers, even longtime employees, have been seriously abused.
"They work in a harsh environment, and the restaurant does not care about their safety," Tsai said. "They are called 'dogs.' It's unacceptable."
According to Yu Guan Ke, an immigrant from Taiwan who has worked at Saigon Grill for more than 10 years, full time workers earn as little as $1.60 an hour and often work 6-7 days a week.
Ke told the Columbia Daily Spectator that if a worker's day off fell on a holiday or on a day with bad weather, when there are typically more delivery orders, he would be forced to work anyway. He further alleged that workers are charged fines for taking sick leave or for offenses like shutting a restaurant door too loudly.
Ke also stated if workers are robbed while delivering an order, they are made to pay for all lost orders from that day. When they delivered long-distance orders, for which customers are charged an extra fee, the restaurant owners kept the money. If workers were involved in an accident on the job, they had to pay their own medical costs. For their on-the-job meal, they were given whatever food was left over from the day.
According to a statement from Justice Will Be Served, delivery workers are charged heavy fines for late deliveries, regardless of harsh weather conditions, and are sent to unsafe areas. The statement also says that when they are robbed or injured on the job, they must cover medical costs as well as the expense of the lost orders.
"I've been robbed before - I've had someone steal my money because I was working in a dangerous area," said Yuguan Ke, who has worked there for more than 10 years. "When that happened, I went to the police, but the boss didn't care. At the end of the night, he looked at all my receipts and orders and said, 'You have to pay it anyway.'
Justice Will Be Served! (JWBS) is a campaign led by service workers in New York State who are fighting against long hours, second-class wages, stolen tips and other sweatshop conditions, and for fair wages, control over their time, and respect.
The following is from the Village Voice.
Workers Protest Outside Saigon Grill
A throng of more than 20 delivery workers is gathered outside the Saigon Grill at 93 University Place, chanting "Saigon Grill! Boycott!" and boo-ing anyone who enters the restaurant. A woman stands at the door, ushering potential diners inside to eat.
The workers have been organized for at least a week, but the protest has become more robust in the last few days. They are holding signs that say "SUPPORT DELIVERY WORKERS AGAINST SAIGON GRILL'S ILLEGAL LOCKOUT" and claiming inhumane working conditions.
They are also handing out flyers that say:
Saigon Grill Restaurant owners Simon and Michelle Nget locked out all their delivery workers because they were organizing and planned to file a lawsuit. The owners demanded workers sign an illegal contract t, stating that they have received minimum wage, even though they received less that $2 an hour. The owners told them not to come back when the delivery workers refused to lie.
The flyer goes on to say that Saigon Grill's three locations make $2 million per month, but the owners pay delivery workers as little as $1.60 an hour. In addition, the workers claim that they are charged "ridiculous fines" for sick days, slamming a door, etc., don't get breaks for meals, are verbally harassed, that the owners "disregard workers' safety in unsafe buildings", and offer no monetary support when workers were injured on the job. They say that workers who were robbed and beaten while making deliveries were forced to pay for all the missed deliveries, and that employees who spoke out were fired.