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Saigon Grill Drags Feet Paying Workers $1M in Back Wages, Critics Say

By Emily Frost | February 20, 2013 3:03pm | Updated on February 20, 2013 8:10pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — Controversial Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Grill has been dragging its feet  paying former workers a court-ordered $1 million settlement, critics charge.

Close to two dozen people, some carrying "Boycott Saigon Grill" signs, protested in front of the restaurant at Amsterdam Avenue at West 90th Street, which was slapped by a Supreme Court judge earlier this month for unfair labor practices.

"The owner who bought the restaurant promised me he would pay back the workers," said Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who has met regularly with the ousted workers.

"He has not complied by the law and he has broken his promises," she added of the owner. "This place doesn't abide by labor laws, serves bad food and doesn't comply with health codes."

The recent demonstrations follow a decision by State Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman on Feb. 11 that ruled the new owners must pay $1 million in back wages to former workers.

But organizers said the owners are refusing to pay. 

The owners of Saigon Grill did not respond to a request for comment.

Upper West Side attorney and City Council Candidate Marc Landis said he "wouldn't be surprised if the restaurant owner tried to appeal" the Feb. 11 ruling.

"What is outrageous is [the workers] have won and they've won again," he said.

Workers have been picketing the Upper West Side restaurant five days a week for more than two years. They hope by setting an example, they can prevent labor abuses at other nearby restaurants in the future.

Thirty-six Chinese immigrant deliverymen won a $4.6 million jury settlement after the first owners, Simon and Michelle Nget, violated labor laws in 2008.

Current owners
Bei Lin and Ling Qiao, who took over the Saigon Grill from the Ngets in October 2010, paid $500,000 of the settlement and promised to pay another $1 million to the workers in the settlement, according to labor organizers working with the employees. 

The employees are still awaiting payment.

"With this new judgment, we will make sure it is enforced, if it takes freezing their assets, or even if it ultimately takes shutting Saigon Grill down," said organizer Jei Fong. 

Vincent Cao, 30, was fired in 2010 when he and other workers stood up for the rights of fellow workers older than 40 years old whom the owners wanted to fire. 

"'They're too old —they can't work here," Cao recalled the owners saying.

Workers who demanded overtime pay or who talked about organizing were also fired or retaliated against with fewer hours, Cao said.

Cao said he has survived on support from friends and family while he pickets daily.

The fight to reinstate fired workers and repay withheld wages has been slow, he said.  

"It's been many years and all they have is a piece of paper," he said. 

Organizer Sophie DeBenedetto, 23, echoed Cao's frustrations.

"We are getting stronger in terms of people power," she said. "But the law is very weak [in enforcing past judgments,]."