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Many Austin Restaurants Aren’t Paying Workers Fair Wages

95 percent of the establishments violated federal labor laws

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Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

It turns out that many Austin restaurants have violated federal labor laws, which cover minimum wage, overtime, and tracking hours, according to a report published today by the U.S. Department of Labor.

During the Department of Labor’s Austin investigations, it found that a whopping 95 percent of local restaurants disobeyed laws from October 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016. Though it did note the rate decreased slightly from 98 percent the year before.

A breakdown of the current wage breaches include making staffers work solely for tips, not paying proper overtime compensation; illegally taking out money from wages to cover things like credit card fees and broken items; creating tip pools with kitchen staffers; basing tipped servers' overtime wages on the $2.13 tipped minimum rate, before gratuities, rather than the Texas minimum wage of $7.25; and many child labor offenses, such as letting minors work with dangerous equipment.

Update, 4:12 p.m.: Community Impact has a partial list of the restaurant violators, including Austin's Pizza and South Congress Cafe.

Update, October 6: Austin Business Journal now has a full list of those restaurants, which includes the above, plus Trudy's, Verts, Curra's Grill, Fonda San Miguel, and many others.

KVUE reported that the Department of Labor managed to get over $330,000 in back wages from 67 Austin restaurants and handed the cash over to 500 workers. The news channel also spoke to Jaymys Sherre, a former restaurant employee who experienced these violations firsthand. He left his job at a South Austin eatery (which remained clearly unnamed) recently because he was never paid overtime wages, despite often working extra hours. He was even told by his managers to never "clock in until your first table" arrived, despite coming to the restaurant earlier to get ready for his shifts. He couldn't take it anymore, and quit to work in retail instead.

Dr. David Well, who serves as the administrator of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, addressed his department's findings in a statement:

The current level of noncompliance found in these investigations is not acceptable [...] WHD will continue to use every tool we have available to combat this issue. This includes vigorous enforcement as well as outreach to employer associations and worker advocates to ensure that Austin restaurant workers receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.