Flushing workers net $48K

Two Asian immigrant supermarket workers got their just desserts recently, thanks to a Korean-American advocacy group who took up their labor cases.
Da Wui Jin, a Chinese immigrant, had worked at a Chinese supermarket in Flushing for about eight months, when he came to realize that he was being paid below the minimum wage by averaging his pay against the hours he was working.
Wan Jin Lim, from Korea, had toiled at a “downtown” Manhattan supermarket for roughly two years before coming to the same conclusion.
According to Steven Choi, program director of Young Korean-American Service and Education Committee (YKASEC) - Empowering the Korean American Community, such abuses happen all the time.
“Because of the language barrier, it’s hard for some people to find employment outside of the ethnic enclave,” Choi said.
Lim had worked an overnight shift, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., six-days-a-week from February 2004 until May 2006. His salary was barely above the minimum, Choi explained, but he was never paid at the time-and-a-half rate to which he was entitled for the time he worked in excess of 40 hours each week.
“Some employers think that by not keeping records, they can get away with something,” Choi said. “They couldn’t be more wrong.”
It seems that according to the rules, the employer must disprove a worker’s allegations by offering up detailed employment records - if they aren’t keeping their records, the employee wins.
“When we showed the employer’s attorney that his client would lose at trial, and they would have to pay all the costs, they did the math and realized it would cost them as much as $200 thousand.” Choi explained.
“They offered a settlement the morning we were going to trial,” he continued, with no small trace of satisfaction in his voice. Lim collected $40,000 from the employer, who could not be named as part of the settlement.
“The Chinese supermarket people were a lot smarter,” Choi opined. “They settled even before we filed our federal complaint.”
The employer ran the numbers in that case and offered Lim $8,000 for his eight months of being short-changed. He had worked from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., five-days-a-week - but was paid only $450 for the week.
Choi’s organization, which was originally the YKASEC, is advocating for all Asian immigrant workers in Flushing. “We’re a lot more than just service and education,” he said, adding, “Both the workers and the legitimate businesses deserve protection from unscrupulous actors.”
“A really smart businessman will do it right from the beginning,” Choi said, thus avoiding a date with the group in court. For more information about YKASEC - Empowering the Korean American Community, call 718-460-5600.