By Sahid Fawaz
As if restaurant workers don’t have it bad enough, Buffalo is making things worse.
“In mid-December, during a radio interview, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared his opposition to New York’s lower minimum wage for restaurant workers and said it exploits immigrants and women.
A month later, in his State of the State address, Cuomo followed up by ordering public hearings into the so-called ‘tip credit’ and suggested again it was an issue of ‘fairness and decency.’
But while Cuomo was doing that, lawmakers at Buffalo City Hall were taking a far different path.
At the urging of a waterfront restaurant owner, the Common Council voted to create a new, lower minimum wage for restaurant workers who were previously entitled to the city’s much higher living wage.
Even more important, perhaps, the lower hourly wage – it dropped from $13.06 to to $7.50– was adopted as some of those same workers sought the higher living wage from their employer, William K’s restaurant, which contracts with the city.
Six of those workers are now suing the restaurant and its owners, Molly and William Koessler, in Buffalo federal court.
‘I naively sat around and waited for her to make it right,’ said Katie Lane, a former server at William K’s. ‘I also thought, “What can I do?”‘
Lane and five other workers are suing the Koesslers in an effort to collect $75,000 in back pay they believe is owed to them. The workers claim in their civil suit that, as a contractor for the city, William K’s was required to pay Buffalo’s living wage, but never did.
‘I wasn’t even making as much as the kid scooping ice cream next door,’ said Chris Keroack, a former server at the Erie Basin Marina restaurant near The Hatch.
Keroack and Lane said they knew nothing about the higher minimum wage until the city’s Living Wage Commission alerted them to discrepancies in their pay.
The commission also informed the Koesslers of their obligation to pay the higher minimum wage of $13.06 an hour and reminded them that, unlike state law, there was no ‘tips’ exemption in Buffalo’s living wage ordinance.
Workers say the restaurant didn’t budge and, in December 2016, Molly Koessler appeared at a commission hearing and told members she had asked Mayor Byron W. Brown for ‘assistance.’
Two weeks later, with the dispute still unsettled, the commission recommended the Koesslers make restitution to their workers. The panel also warned them that, if they failed to do so, it would recommend that City Hall end its contract with the restaurant.
The city’s response was to change the law, not enforce it.
‘The State of New York is moving to protect restaurant workers and the City of Buffalo is moving backward,’ said Nicole Hallett, director of the Community Justice Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law.”
For the rest of the story, check out the full article at the Buffalo News.