Restaurant hired 'priest' to extract workplace confessions from staff

With now $150K to pay out, that's what we call fine dining

A California restaurant chain has been fined $5,000 and ordered to pay $140,000 in unpaid wages for labor violations.

As part of its effort to keep workers from complaining about withheld pay, the business allegedly carried out employee monitoring as a form of intimidation. But rather than using electronic surveillance, the restaurant firm relied on social engineering.

Specifically, Che Garibaldi, operator of the Taqueria Garibaldi chain, engaged a purported priest to encourage workers to confess sins against the restaurant, like whether they'd ever stolen from their bosses.

The restaurant owner, a Department of Labor investigator explained [PDF] during a court hearing, "brought in a priest who was a friend of [the owner] to hold confessions at the establishment in the back of the restaurant. And multiple employees told me that they took part in this confession, and they found it odd because the priest was asking questions regarding their loyalty to the employer and to the business."

Asked about this, the investigator interpreted the interaction as a form of intimidation "to keep [employees] from talking to the Department of Labor." The employees, the investigator said, are all practicing Catholics and said they "have never experienced a confession like that one."

"Under oath, an employee of Taqueria Garibaldi explained how the restaurant offered a supposed priest to hear their workplace 'sins' while other employees reported that a manager falsely claimed that immigration issues would be raised by the department’s investigation,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin in a statement.

"This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages."

Some of the workers, a court transcript suggests, were fearful of their immigration status because they had been brought over from Mexico illegally.

In May, the court hearing the case found that Taqueria Garibaldi denied overtime pay to employees working more than 40 hours a week, in violation of the Fair Labor Standard Act. It also found that employees paid managers from the employee tip pool – in violation of the law – and threatened them to prevent complaints.

Gig work companies have gotten around paying overtime and other benefits by misclassifying workers as independent contractors and lobbying for exemptions from labor law. Instead of employing priests, they have apps and other digital surveillance technology to watch over workers.

According to the Department of Labor, Taqueria Garibaldi and owners Eduardo Hernandez, Hector Manual Martinez Galindo, and Alejandro Rodriguez have agreed to a consent decree [PDF] to resolve the Labor Department allegations. The agreement calls for the payment of $140,000, representing back wages and damages, to 35 employees. ®

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