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Restaurants in Calif. settle wave of wage theft cases

For 56 years, the Chan family has been serving up tasty dim sum dumplings stuffed with pork and shrimp to throngs of business executives, tourists and San Francisco Bay Area families.

The steamed and fried dishes delivered by stylishly uniformed waiters to diners sitting before white tablecloths at their Yank Sing restaurant have won many accolades, including a coveted James Beard Award in 2009 and favorable listings in the Zagat Survey and Michelin Guide.

But Henry and Judy Chans' Yank Sing restaurant didn't fare so well last year with state and city labor inspectors. Investigations and audits, spurred by complaints from dozens of employees — mainly Chinese immigrants who spoke little English — revealed numerous violations of state wage-and-hour laws at their restaurant in the heart of San Francisco's financial district and a smaller location six blocks away.

Regulators said the owners, when confronted with the findings, moved quickly to boost pay and improve working conditions.

Infractions included failure to pay minimum wages and overtime, making prep cooks and servers work off the clock, denials of meal and rest breaks, and managers grabbing tips meant for waiters.

"It was all pretty blatant," said California Labor Commissioner Julie Su, whose staff led the investigation along with the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. Employers often "do not expect their employees to complain. They believe that it's cheaper to break the law because the chances of getting caught are slim, and the costs of getting caught are minimal."

That's not what happened at Yank Sing, where a few whistle-blowing staffers sought advice from the Chinese Progressive Assn., which advocates for low-wage earners, and the Asian Law Caucus, a nonprofit offering legal aid to the working poor. By the end of summer 2013, most of the restaurant's approximately 280 employees joined the action. They filed complaints with government agencies and confronted Yank Sing's management with demands for better pay and conditions.

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