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Immigrant Workers in New Haven Win Damages Over Illegal Low Wages

Lori Mack

A federal judge has ordered a 24-hour grocery on the campus of Yale University to pay several former employees a total of $170,000 in damages, after they were forced to work for as little as $3.00 an hour.

The owner and manager of Gourmet Heaven were charged with violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act.

All six of the workers who brought the case were immigrants. Some were fired when they cooperated with the investigation.

Attorney James Bhandary Alexander of the New Haven Legal Assistance Association said the case has a wider significance.

"In these times when immigrant communities and communities of color are organizing against human rights abuses, it's really important that the judge in this case upheld the rule of law, and found that free speech rights -- free association rights -- apply to every person in this state," he said.

John Lugo is a community organizer with Unidad Latina en Accion, which supported the workers. He wants consumers to be aware of the treatment of immigrant employees.

"You cannot pretend that nothing is happening in these restaurants, that nothing is happening in these kitchens," he said. "You should be educating yourselves about who you're supporting as a business. Because many of these restaurants, they're just making the profits on the back of the workers and selling the overpriced food. And I think that's not right." 

Lugo’s organization has sponsored protests outside other businesses in the city which have violated wage and labor standards.

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