How the restaurant industry normalizes wage theft

“If they’re clocked in before they’re scheduled to work, then you don’t have to pay them.” This is a tip Eddie Wu, owner and chef at Cook St. Paul, received from another local chef de cuisine from a well-known Minneapolis restaurant. “In a proud way, they were [explaining] how many hours they were able to shave off their payroll and hedge it,” said Wu. 

Wage theft occurs when workers don’t receive their legally or contractually agreed upon wages. This could be non-payment of overtime, paying below the minimum wage, not paying for all hours worked, requiring off-the-clock work, stealing or manipulating tip payouts or not paying an employee a final check. 

This type of theft within the foodservice industry can be obvious, like not paying overtime wages, but there are quieter tactics and loopholes that unscrupulous owners or managers take advantage of, often going unnoticed by workers. 

The most recent compliance sweep conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division from 2010-2012 that within nearly 9,000 full-service restaurants, approximately 84 percent of restaurants had at least one violation. This resulted in the department’s recovering approximately $57 million in back wages for about 82,000 workers. Continue Reading

Principles of less eligibility: The human cost of prison labor PART II

If you were to turn over a chair in a Minnesota public library, like at the Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, you might find a tag noting the chair was manufactured by MINNCOR, a quasi public-private business operation within the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC). MINNCOR products are made by Minnesota inmates who make furniture for everything from public libraries to student dormitories. They also weld docks for Minnesota lakes and pack balloons destined for festive events. Additionally, minimum security work crews organized through the DOC – separate from MINNCOR’s operations – build low-income homes in greater Minnesota and have even assembled a sports facility dome on the University of Minnesota campus. The work of these inmates is all around us, yet hidden in plain sight. Continue Reading

Principles of less eligibility: The human cost of prison labor PART I

Jesse, an inmate whose name has been changed for his safety, began his incarceration in 2006 initially working as a baker for 25 cents an hour in St. Cloud. He later got a job pressing license plates for 50 cents an hour. During yet another job in prison folding and packaging balloons, Jesse noticed the balloons were being transported and sold by Anagram. While getting paid pennies on the dollar, his labor was being exploited for corporate profit. Continue Reading

Three years after ‘Ban the Box,’ Minnesota ex-offenders find mixed prospects upon re-entry

With a first degree possession of a firearm and a second degree possession of a controlled substance on his record, Jason Sole had a tough time finding meaningful work when he got out of prison. “[Employers] didn’t see my value, they only saw me as a deficit,” said Sole. His first job out of prison was working at a Holiday Inn for $10 an hour.  Sole pointed out that employers know there are a limited amount of jobs, so when they see you’re an ex-offender, they take advantage of it. “The things they make you do because you’re an ex-offender is appalling,” adding, “They just wanted me to be a worker, they weren’t trying to make me a boss.”

Sole didn’t want anybody to be able to oppress him so he figured out how to be his own boss. Continue Reading

St. Paul’s growing political will for $15 minimum wage may mean a faster track for passage

Samuel Callahan is a single father raising his 14-year-old daughter, the youngest of his seven children. The father-daughter pair share a one-bedroom apartment in North Minneapolis. It’s cramped quarters, and yet the small family still does not get to spend enough time together. Callahan has been working at a Taco Bell for the past four years, but in 2016 he also started picking up shifts at a McDonald’s in order to make ends meet. In total, Callahan works 17 hours a day, six days per week. Continue Reading

Protesters call on Dayton to “veto everything” as legislative proposals have compounding effects on the state’s most marginalized [UPDATED]


Gov. Mark Dayton signed a dozen state budget bills into law on May 30, preventing a state government shutdown and signing off on the Legislature’s $46 billion budget, despite calling many of the Republican lawmakers’ provisions “galling and indefensible” and a “reprehensible sneak attack.”

But just because Dayton signed the bills does not mean he approves all the measures. In an effort to bring state legislators back for yet another special session, Dayton made a line-item veto, effectively defunding the budgets of the state House and Senate themselves. Among the multiple issues Dayton wants to renegotiate – largely taxes – the governor also wants a provision making it even more difficult for undocumented immigrants to receive drivers licenses to be stricken from the Public Safety budget. Continue Reading