Several Austin restaurants commit wage violations

Lisa Dreher

Over 500 Austin restaurant employees will receive back wages after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division revealed employers violated labor and wage laws.

WHD investigated 60 Austin restaurants from October 2015 to June of this year, 95 percent of which had violations and allocated $330,000 in back wages for undercompensated workers. Of these 60 restaurants, seven were in the 78705 zipcode. Madam Mam’s, VERTS Mediterranean Grill, Austin’s Pizza, Changos Taqueria and Taco Shack on Guadalupe have violations. 

“The current level of noncompliance found in these investigations is not acceptable,” WHD administrator David Weil said. “WHD will continue to use every tool we have available to combat this issue. This includes vigorous enforcement … to ensure that Austin restaurant workers receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”  

According to a database on the Austin Business Journal’s website, Austin’s Pizza had 13 restaurants with violations from 2013 to 2015. Its on-campus location had 32 labor and wage violations during this time.

Austin’s Pizza owner J.D. Torian said the violation was due to the Department of Labor changing its policy to require salary workers working over 40 hours weekly be paid overtime.

In the past, the chain’s assistant managers had to work 45 to 50 hours weekly. However, they were paid salaries instead of on an hourly basis, so they didn’t receive overtime pay.

“The switch was a change in fair wage policy that we, like others, were not aware of,” a post on Austin’s Pizza’s official Facebook said.

Torian said Austin’s Pizza was one of several restaurants that immediately paid the back wages and had its case resolved, but other restaurants remain noncompliant.

“We handled it as quickly as anybody I think could have possibly done,” Torian said.

Former Austin’s Pizza employee Josiah Steinle, who graduated from UT in 2014, worked part-time at the company from 2011 to 2013. Steinle said he enjoyed working there even though there were occasional lapses in management.

“I felt the management was sometimes unorganized or didn’t inform the employees super well about things or implement things super well,” Steinle said. “But I never felt they were trying to screw the employees.”

According to Austin Business Journal database, Threadgill’s on North Lamar Boulevard had 230 violations from 2006 to 2008. Threadgill’s is one of the restaurants which was investigated during this year. 

Government and economics sophomore Jake O’Shea is a server at a different Threadgill’s location. O’Shea said he was unaware of the violations but said he makes an average of $16–$17 an hour and is paid fairly.

“There’s enough tables to where if one stiffs you, you end up making it back when another tips you good,” O’Shea said.

WHD district director Nicole Sellers said workers should be educated on how much they are required to be paid. She added employers must be knowledgeable on how to follow proper management procedures to avoid missteps and repercussions.

“I think that [the report] shows there is work to be done,” Sellers said. “When we complete an investigation, we want the employers to walk away with an understanding of compliance.”