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Your Favorite Restaurant Probably Stole Wages From Its Workers

The backbone of the small business class is stiffing your workers.

8:57 AM EDT on August 30, 2023

MTA New York City Transit responds to a water main break at West 41st St. & 7th Av. that sent water into the station at Times Square-42 St on the 1/2/3 lines at 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2023.(MTA)

Wage theft, where an employer illegally withholds payment from employers, isn't just an accounting oversight, it's a crime. But in New York, it's rarely treated as one—and possibly because of that, it's tremendously common and often unseen. 

For the past five years, the good folks over at Documented have been compiling a literal map of wage theft across New York, a compendium of the times owners looked at invoices and timecards and said, "Nah."

It took a legal battle with the state to get the full records and then a whole lot of sifting through data, but Documented's interactive Wage Theft Monitor has finally arrived, and now anyone can view the map of just who's been stiffing workers, how many of them, and for how much. Downtown standout Kiki's owed $44,966.53 in stolen wages to 16 workers. Cafe Mogador? A whopping $94,135.8 to 39 workers. Soho House? They owed $772.55 to two workers. (Look up your favorite restaurant or stationary store—the results may surprise you.)

The scale is staggering, with wages stolen on almost every single block in Manhattan, ranging from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands per business—money that workers had to go to the state and file a complaint, in order to get paid what was owed to them. The map only reflects instances where workers actually filed complaints, meaning the scale of wage theft in the state is assuredly much bigger. (Imagine how many times workers don't do that?) 

"Behind the dots on this map are the stories of over 100,000 workers, some of whom missed rent, went hungry, or were unable to pay for medical care after losing a paycheck," writes Max Sieglebaum, the co-executive director of Documented who helped spearhead the project. 

The map and data has led to findings that aren't necessarily shocking, but still disturbing. Teaming up with ProPublica, Documented found that New York employers stole $52 million from restaurant workers from 2017 to 2021, with few penalties for ignoring the state's minimum wage laws. On top of that, the state's Department of Labor (DOL) still hasn't recovered 63 percent of that money, meaning workers are still in the lurch—even years after the DOL found that their employer didn't pay them what they were due. Maybe that's because, as New York Focus found, the DOL is understaffed and adrift under a Cuomo appointee. 

Now that the monitor is public, they invite others to join in on investigating the stories behind the numbers. "We believe there are many such stories to be discovered in the over 33,000 cases in the database," Siegelbaum writes. 

We know we'll be diving in. 

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate figures—the post has been updated with correct data.

Some links we're not going to withhold from you: 

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