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tv   Fault Lines  Al Jazeera  May 9, 2015 8:00am-8:31am EDT

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>> mr. gonzalez?
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excuse me, mr. gonzalez? could you explain why you haven't paid your workers? >> after fault lines began investigating david's cafe for stealing its employees' wages, the owner offered to pay his former workers seventy-five percent of what they're owed. with few other options, the workers agreed. but as of this show's air date no checks have arrived. restaurant workers have little power. nationwide, less than five percent are represented by a union. in florida, efforts to enact wage protections face opposition from a strong business lobby. among that lobby's successes this year: a new law that prevents localities from requiring companies to grant paid sick days. state senator david simmons sponsored that bill. >> we do not want to become like a state that over-regulates the
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private enterprise so that it overburdens employers. because you know who ends up ultimately paying for it? employees. that's exactly what happens. you overburden employers with regulations and obligations and they're not free to treat their employees the way we know they want to treat them, and that is with respect and with as high a pay as they can possibly get by with paying and be competitive. in the majority of cases employees are, they have a wonderful relationship with their employer and... >> low paid workers in florida? >> also low paid workers in florida, if you want to call them low-paid. we have a very, very strong legal system here... >> but we've met employees through that system and the court has found in their favor. they still haven't got their money back. >> well, you can't make, one thing is true here in the united
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states. if the defendant doesn't have any money, you can have a judgment against that person but you can't send them to jail because they can't pay their debts, or don't pay their debts. that's just a fact of life. >> the food service industry recorded sales last year of over six hundred billion dollars. it is the largest employer of minimum wage jobs in the country jobs that can leave full-time workers below the federal poverty threshold. in nearby fort lauderdale, gloria lewis prepares dinner every sunday for some of the city's homeless population. >> i'm a waitress but i've been cooking from the time i was eight years old. on the islands, you got to cook, i'm sorry. if you're going to get a husband, you better cook.
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>> she and her husband started the effort on their own, buying the groceries and distributing the meals. recently a church group started helping them. >> and so what we do, we go here, then we come here, then we go to another spot right over there. lower income jobs, seven eight dollars an hour. if you do the calculations and the cost of living, there's no money there. >> give me a bottle of water please. >> gloria says that for most of the people she feeds, the jobs available are restaurant work, if they can get them. gloria knows what it's like. she's been working in florida restaurants for over 20 years, but she still makes minimum wage. she also estimates she's lost about nineteen thousand dollars in unpaid wages over several jobs. >> the first place that i worked, i knew the wages were stolen. the problem is you need the job. so it's only after i'm not on
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the job anymore that i go after these employers. while i'm on the job, i'm not going to do anything. gloria is a rarity. she has successfully sued three of her former employers for wage theft. all three restaurants settled outside of court. >> when he fired me, then i went for my money. >> why didn't you say anything earlier? >> i need the job. how am i going to say, if everybody else there is accepting the situation, who am i to think that i am going to go in there and change something and still have a job? when everybody has been here forever and they accept it? you really think little old me especially a little black girl oh please. they'll throw me out in a heartbeat. >> each of the three restaurants she sued had a different way of chipping into her wages. >> the third time, they were taking out thirty hours, thirty minutes a day for almost two years, taking out breaks that i never took. and before the manager leaves, he knew that the job wasn't
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done, but he would ask you, did you clock out? so your job was not complete but you needed to clock out. so i would clock out and stay there to finish the job. >> other restaurants also cheated her in smaller ways, but she didn't go through the time and expense to sue. >> and it's not like it's only me. they're not singling out me. that's just across the board what is being done. because i've worked in enough restaurants and it pretty much happened in all of them. if the employer gets, once every three years gets sued, calculate how much money is in his pocket. it's worth the risk. >> one of the premises that has made america as great as it is is a court system in which anyone who has been wronged gets a fair day in court. >> it doesn't go to court. there's a settlement agreement with a gag order.
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meaning that i am not allowed to tell anyone else on the job or anywhere that i got my money. so what do i do in my resume in the last ten years, tell the people what did i do for ten years. so there you go, this is why ain't nobody doing anything about it. >> you can compare how employees are in florida, with employees in china or malaysia or southeast asia, and you come to the conclusion that this is in fact, the greatest place to live and to work. >> when you earn seven, you know, eight dollars an hour, that's less than twenty thousand dollars a year. >> saru jayaraman is the co-founder of the restaurant opportunities center, a non-profit group that works to improve conditions for restaurant workers. >> the restaurant industry as a whole reported just a few months
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ago, record high profits coming out of this incredible economic crisis. they're doing quite well. >> in chicago, saru's group organized a demonstration outside of the capital grille to protest low wages at that restaurant. the capital grille is owned by darden restaurants, the largest full-service restaurant company in the world. darden also owns other well-known chains, like olive garden, red lobster, and longhorn steakhouse. at the protest, we met alfredo galdamez, who washed dishes at the capital grille for a little over a year. he said he soon noticed that the managers were clocking him out before he was done working.
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>> even after alfredo got paid his earnings were not entirely his own. he showed me darden paid him: on a debit card. >> was everybody using these cards? everybody had this? >> yes, everybody. the problem is, every time you use it, you are paying. >> cards like these allow darden to lower payroll costs. but alfredo says the card charged him a fee when he checked his balance, and a fee when he withdrew funds.
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darden - along with twenty other companies including mcdonald's and wendy's - is now under investigation by new york's attorney general for excessive and undisclosed payroll card fees. >> catch more "faultlines" episodes on demand or at >> we're here to fully get into the nuances of everything that's going on not just in this country but around the world. >> if there were no cameras here, would be the best solution. >> this goes to the heart of the argument >> to tell you the stories that others won't cover. how big do you see this getting? getting the news from the people who are affected. >> people need to demand reform... >> we're here to provide the analysis... the context...
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and the reporting that allows you to make sense of your world. >> ali velshi on target only on al jazeera america
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>> darden restaurants is the nation's largest employer of tipped workers. by federal law, employers of tipped workers benefit from a loophole in wage regulations. they can pay tipped workers a base wage that today is just thirty percent of the minimum wage. the rest is supposed to be made up by tips. >> so this is the thing that americans don't know when they eat out. the minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour. seventy percent of tipped workers in america work at very
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casual family style restaurants where they're earning very little money in tips and squeaking by. and so the median wage, even with tips is under $9 an hour. >> we want to hear darden's perspective on these wages. >> but they've refused all of our requests for an interview, so we're on our way to the company headquarters, located just outside the city of orlando, and it's there that all the company's decisions are made. >> i think the worst form of stolen wages is the fact that they are spending millions of dollars - not on paying their workers a decent wage or providing benefits, but instead on lobbying, both at the state level and in congress, to keep wages at a poverty level. >> darden is a leading voice in the national restaurant association, the lobbying organization that negotiated the low federal minimum wage for
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tipped workers. >> we've come to see if we can speak to clarence otis, the ceo? >> back in 1996, herman cain who later tried to run for president, was the head of the national restaurant association. struck this behind closed doors deal, with congress, saying that they the nra would not oppose a modest increase to the overall minimum wage as long as this wage stayed frozen forever for tipped workers. at 2 dollars and 13 cents an hour. >> could you bring somebody down, please, because we need to speak to somebody about this. we've been trying for several weeks. >> so for the last twenty-two years as the regular minimum wage has continued to rise, the minimum wage for tipped workers has stayed frozen. basically this industry is saying we don't have to pay these workers at all. they should work for us, but we don't have to pay them at all. you should pay them as customers. >> with tens of thousands of tipped workers, that adds up to a great deal for darden's magagement. >> we can actually see that darden's being listed as one of
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the one hundred best companies to work for, despite the fact that they've paid out nearly fourteen million dollars in lawsuits related to wage theft of their lowest paid employees. >> both darden and the national restaurant association declined to be interviewed for this story. but they have publicly lobbied against minimum wage increases saying that any changes would slow job growth and hurt america's already fragile economy. president obama and congressional democrats have proposed small increases in the minimum wage for both tipped and non-tipped workers. but the proposals haven't moved far in congress. and just a few minutes from the capitol building, some workers allege that the federal government isn't complying with its own wage laws. this is the ronald reagan building, home of dozens of federal agencies, including the
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department of customs and border protection. at lunch, the food hall fills up with tourists and government workers. >> the restaurants in this food hall are actually federally contracted businesses, but the workers here claim they're owed nearly a million dollars in unpaid wages. >> many workers allege they didn't get overtime pay, some say they got even less than dc's hourly minimum wage of $8.25. >> antonio venagus started working in the food court in 2010.
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>> is this how you treat american workers? >> no! >> in may of this year, antonio spoke at one of several one-day strikes in dc to protest wage theft and low wages. the next day, he was arrested, and detained by immigration officials for four days. it could be a coincidence that after three years of serving lunch to border agents his legal status was discovered right after he spoke out. but even if antonio had been paid the federal minimum wage, he would have made only about fifteen thousand dollars a year.
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more than three million people work full time on this wage but still live in poverty. and since the recession, nearly sixty percent of jobs added have been in low wage work. >> these are private relationships that do not need to be over-regulated by government. >> the workers don't have power. >> the restaurant industry is the fastest growing sector of the us economy. it is the industry that's out there. these are the jobs that are out there. this increasingly is american work. this is the job. >> catch more "faultlines" episodes on demand or at >> the end of aging... >> eternal youth... >> ...eternal life or eternal youth? >> curing death... >> we're heading from have and have nots... to a world of haves, and super haves.. >> can you afford to live forever? >> what's wrong? >> if rich people who got to live longer
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than poor people. >> then it's no fair... >> fault lines. al jazeera america's hard-hitting... >> today they will be arrested. >> groundbreaking... >> they're firing canisters of gas at us. >> emmy award winning investigative series new episode the death of aging only on al jazeera america >> the agonizing wait is over. the wait list reach schools and safety schools have made their wishes known and thousands of high school seniors have had to cope with what they might see as college failure before they take a single class. they will be in school in fall just not their dream school. have we created crazy unworkable expectations at toop schools? does it matter that you go to college and less where you go? the deposits for the fall are in