Angry Restaurant Workers Secretly Tape Bosses

Some employees at a famous restaurant NYC’s Central Park got so fed up with the way they were being treated by their bosses that they took matters into their own hands and began secretly tape-recording workplace conversations.

According to a report in the NY Daily News, dozens of the restaurant’s waiters and dishwashers spent the last year wearing miniature cassette recorders while on the job.

Among the conversations caught on tape are warnings from the restaurant’s owner to employees that, if they voted to unionize, he will “go out of business.” Workers told the News that the owner and other supervisors routinely threatened and retaliated against them in their attempts to form a union.

The president of Local 6 of the hotel and restaurant workers union called the tapes “irrefutable proof” that the restaurant has “repeatedly violated federal labor laws.” He has asked the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the workers’ allegations.

“They treat us like animals in that place,” said one banquet waiter still employed at the restaurant. “Many times, we work double shifts from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., but they don’t even give us decent meals to eat or proper work breaks, or pay us all our overtime.”

The restaurant owner calls these allegations “absolutely untrue.”

Angry employees at Central Park’s Boathouse Restaurant secretly taping their bosses [NY Daily News]

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  1. Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

    rabble rabble stupid unions rabble rabble be glad to have a job rabble rabble fox news is fair and balanced rabble rabble.

    There, that ought to save some time.

    • galm666 says:

      Hahahaha, someone was gonna do it, better you than someone who actually believes that.

    • skepticalbunneh says:

      LMAO!! Well played my friend, well played.

    • SuperSnackTime says:

      I like this, maybe we could start every consumerist threads with two auto-made boxes. One is red (this is where you get to rant conservative-style), the other is blue (liberal-style ranting).

      All the more nuanced discussions can just go below in their own new threads.

      • ARP says:

        Reminds me of the new Wheel of Fortune. On the final puzzle, they give you a bunch of pre-selected letters and then let you add a few more. We should have the conservative rant and the liberal rant pre-populated and then people can either sign on to those posts or post something creative, interesting, insightful, etc.

        • danmac says:

          You made the comment about [insert political/racial/religious/gun-related opinion here]. That’s a crass generalization and completely not true. For example, [insert one event/quote/article here that refutes the original comment...avoid Wikipedia so you look smarter]. Therefore, your entire premise is incorrect.

          • ARP says:

            LOL- We can automate the entire comments section! When someone posts about an evil union job, we can have a macro/ script that automatically responds child labor, 8 hour days, etc. We can have it pre-populated for most of the posts. It would require almost no human maintenance.

            We’ve made ourselves obsolete.

            • danmac says:

              Why is terminator music playing in my head…

              “On January 28, 2011, the Consumerist comments section became self-aware…”

    • ARP says:

      You forgot “unions are ebil and are the cause of all problems.”

      • ARP says:

        Wait, sorry. You do have it. Between the first and second set of Rabbles.

      • TheCorporateGeek Says Common Sense Is The Key says:

        Yep unions are ebil and they’re the reason everything is so expensive in this country. People don’t get that when auto workers make more than teachers that something is seriously wrong in this country.

    • iggy21 says:

      I find it humorous to see people leap to politics on these things. For every story of a shady private business boss mistreating their employees, there’s an equal companion story about the abuse of unions. It’s not about politics, it’s about the person running the show.

      The way I see it, the boss is a jackass. There are jackasses in the world, regardless of political affiliation. Incorporating all workers in to a union contract wouldnt solve the problem, nor would disbanding all unions.

    • zappo says:

      News corp (Fox) does not own the NY Daily news, they own the Post. ID 10 T.

    • Froggmann says:

      All I needed to read… next!

    • 99 1/2 Days says:

      Nothing like a good preemptive marginalization to start a thread, huh?

  2. Alvis says:

    Can we kill the use of “taping” to mean “recording”? Those are digital recorders these guys used.

    Reminds me of people who refer to all video game cartridges as “tapes”, probably from their C64 days.

    • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

      HEY! My VIC-20 and C64 had tapes AND cartridges. And even these things we called “floppy discs”.

      • Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

        When I had a Vic 20 I NEVER called the tapes or Cartridges floppy disks. The floppy drive unit was so expensive compared to the cassette tape drive that you were smacked down pretty hard if you called the cheaper tapes floppies.

      • Alvis says:

        I used to call 3.5″ floppies “hard disks”

        • hmburgers says:

          I would describe the 3.5″ disks as more “firm” disks than hard disks… they weren’t really all that hard…

    • Cry Havoc says:

      But they weren’t using records either. Perhaps we should say they captured a digital copy of their voices on an electronic device? Or maybe we can stop caring about dumb crap that doesn’t matter?

    • jesirose says:

      “wearing miniature cassette recorders”

      ….

    • Daverson says:

      While we’re at it, can we kill the use of “dialing” to mean “placing a phone call?” Phones haven’t been made with dials in what, thirty years?

    • plumbob says:

      “Sorry boss, give me a second, I need to replace the wax spool on my phonograph”

    • JennQPublic says:

      We were watching a movie on VHS the other day, and discovered our VHS player will no longer ‘rewind’. As the tape was being scanned backward while the picture was on the screen, I actually thought to myself “Why don’t we just flip the tape over and fast-forward it?”

      I’m starting to confuse my obsolete technologies…

    • wellfleet says:

      I still say “I taped 30 for 30″ when I’m referring to the DVR. Habit.

  3. topcad says:

    Wait..where’s the “we are taking these allegations seriously” line?

    • homer2324 says:

      any smart person would have said that, or at least something along the line of ‘we will look into this matter’ without admitting or denying.

      he is digging his own grave by flat out denying.

      however, tbh, i would want to know what could the Labor Department do to him.

      • NatalieErin says:

        It would depend on the specific facts, but the Labor Board can require companies to recognize unions or bargain with them, pay back wages, or whatever other actions they determine will end the unfair labor practice. If the losing party resists, but Board has to get a court order.

  4. GMurnane says:

    Has any independent group (ie not Union president or owner) thoroughly reviewed the tapes and come to a conclusion about labor law violations? It didn’t sound like NY Daily News really spent much time analyzing the tapes from the linked article.

    • NatalieErin says:

      That’s the National Labor Relations Board’s job. It’s a government agency that adjudicates violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

  5. dragonfire81 says:

    I once worked with a guy who told me (no joke) “labor laws are useless, they do nothing but keep me from making more money.”

    I quit soon after he said that.

    • James says:

      Sounds like my former workplace. But he wanted to abolish the department of labor instead. He believed that workers could go work where they wished and work for companies that fell into line with their beliefs.

      Things there were not great for workers. The place, really, could not grock the idea of institutional memory.

      James

  6. Blueskylaw says:

    After a year of taping that’s all that they got? Anti-union actions by the owners?

    No tax evasion, selling spoiled food or even taking workers tips?

    • teke367 says:

      Exactly, first thing I thought was “if I taped my bosses when i was a server, you’d come up with a lot worse stuff than than anti-union sentiment.”

    • plumbob says:

      In the actual article from the daily news they have been skimming tips and evading taxes.

  7. Mold says:

    How else can Randian supermen make tons o’ money? If he paid them decent wages he would have to, like, live in a middle-class area. This is not to be borne!
    Let’s use the business model for fast food and apply it everywhere!

    • waltja26 says:

      It’s OK for them to take on the risk of starting a new venture, risk being the threat of failure and loss of start-up capital and their own income, but heaven forbid they take any more for themselves after they created a job for you. Profit is evil blah blah blah

      I work with business owners, some of restaurants, and guess what? They are not these Randian Super Villians you think they are. They are Middle Class America.

      Interestingly, mold does not grow on fast food?

      • plumbob says:

        Creating jobs does not entitle you to anything. I don’t understand where this idea of employer privilege comes from.

        Creating a business, if you are smart, involves little personal risk beyond losing the business and having to return to work for someone else. This is why you incorporate, so you are not personally responsible for loans and liability. I was self-employed for many years and you are a fool if you don’t shield yourself from personal loss.

        • waltja26 says:

          Does not creating a business entitle you to the wealth it creates? Why would someone else be entitled to it? Why would anyone start a business, and work their asses off doing so, if all they would reap is minimum wage? Why would they want to excel at anything if it did not get them anywhere?

          • DerangedKitsune says:

            Why would you want to work for anyone else, if all you could ever look forward to is minimum wage because your boss is keeping the rest to them self?

            • waltja26 says:

              Because he is not the only boss in the world, and maybe, just maybe you can learn a new skill. Do you believe you have no control over your life? Choices can be tough, especially tough choices.

              • kmw2 says:

                It’s highly unlikely anyone’s going to learn a new skill in a minimum-wage job in a restaurant run by a tightwad that doesn’t give raises. Who are they going to learn it from, the people that just started two months ago or the ones about to quit after six when they realized they weren’t getting a raise?

          • kmw2 says:

            That’s great. When you have a one-person business, you can be entitled to as much profit as you can reap from that business. However, when _other_ people work for you – as is the case at almost any restaurant – you as the business owner are legally required to treat them in a specific fashion. That includes things like “paying them,” and “not breaking laws regarding unionization.” The myth of the superhero entrepreneur is just that, a myth. No one does it alone, and sharing the profits fairly should not be anathema.

        • waltja26 says:

          “Creating jobs does not entitle you to anything.”

          And yet, you seem to support the idea that having a job entitles you to more than just what was agreed upon?

    • VeganPixels says:

      Fast food? Nah, they’re still employees. Now, the strip club business model OTOH is really where Randroid Libertardian ‘murica wants to be. Poof, you’re an “independent contractor,” so pay up to flip that burger or you owe me more to work here.

  8. shepd says:

    It seems to me it’s fair that if an owner doesn’t want to run a place with a union that he may sell it or close it down. It also seems prudent that the owner explain that to the employees, and that the employees unionize anyways and call his bluff.

    And, in Canada, the government agrees: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/731668–top-court-backs-wal-mart-over-union-store-closing

    If the working conditions are so bad, I don’t understand by the NY equivalent of the Ministry of Labour isn’t shutting the place down themselves?!

    • plumbob says:

      There is no equivalent government entity in the US. You can be as abusive to your employees as you like, with a few exceptions. But, as long as no one finds out you are in the clear, as I said, no one actually enforces labor laws in the US, it is up to employees to prove any violations.

      And read up on the good old days of union busting. When an owner threatens to close, they don’t close. They fire everyone, hang a new sign outside the store, maybe transfer ownership to their wife or child to make sure everything is above water. Then reopen the same week.

      • Storie says:

        It depends on the state you’re in. Sometimes your state AG’s office can help you, but no one really wants to piss off employers, so likely all they’ll do is send a warning letter. That was my experience, anyway.

  9. sufreak says:

    While I agree they should be happy they have jobs, they may not be jobs if they’re being abused and mistreated. That makes it akin to endured servants.

    • Joseph49 says:

      I think you mean endentured servants.

      • sufreak says:

        Thank you, yes. Indentured? servants. Endentured?

      • waltja26 says:

        Except that they can leave at any time by their own free will. ( I know you were just correcting the other)

        • veg-o-matic says:

          Not if they have no options for another job and/or are being held hostage by something like immigration status. Plenty of employers put people to work and tell them that if they ask for things like overtime they will “have them deported” or some such nonsense.

          There are other instances – not so uncommon and sometimes in what you might consider very “progressive” communities – of restaurant workers paying rent to their employer to be “housed” in overcrowded apartments near their workplace. When you have no one else to turn to and nowhere else to go, it’s alot like slavery.

    • jesirose says:

      Because they endured it?

      If you’re paid, it’s a job.

  10. MMD says:

    Would these recordings be admissible in court?

  11. Mold says:

    Yep, rather than make money..the store will close instead of allowing workers to be human. Should make you wonder why.

    • rmorin says:

      “Be Human” does not equal unionize!

      I am in an union. I work a state job with full benefits, so this is not a case of jealousy. Unions currently are detrimental to business and society. There was a time in past where unions were desperately needed. They were started because people were working dangerous jobs, with outrageous hours, and being paid pennies. Federal labor laws and safety standards have since been implemented making unions worthless. Now they simply increase costs and decrease productivity. If society wants certain labor standards, they should make laws ensuring them.

      “But Unions fight big business!” some may retort – Wrong, they are a big business. They want you to get a raise not so that you can have a higher quality of life, but so that they take in more dues. If American society wants to ensure certain wages or benefits, they should make laws requiring them. Not have a business (the union) gobble up a chunk of the change to do so. “But that law would never pass!” you may say. Well then what does that say about whether or not society wants those changes?

      • VeganPixels says:

        I have the perfect solution to your dilemma: quit.

      • ARP says:

        But labor laws have not kept up with the times. If so, our minimum wage would be $10+ per hour, Unemployment would be at least a year, regardless of the economy, we wouldn’t be footing paying for big business’s infrastructure and property taxes with non-binding promises to employ 20 people. If our labor laws were updated, I’d agree with you.

      • jenesaisrien says:

        i guess you have an advantage in that your job seems to you as fair and good ebens Not everyone else has that experience so it would not be fair fo you to judge the relative need if you are coming from a position of non need I have positive need as do those in my field Much need

  12. AnthonyC says:

    Good news is that NY is a one-party notification state (last time I checked), so that at least shouldn’t be an issue if these recordings become evidence.

  13. oldwiz65 says:

    Or could the workers be arrested under wiretapping charges?

    • ARP says:

      It appears NY is a one party consent state.

      • Derek Balling says:

        And if {recording_person} has a recorder which records a conversation between {person_a} and {person_b}, neither of which is {recording_person}, that’s “zero party notification”, in which case the person making the recording has committed a punishable offense.

  14. Nighthawke says:

    The owner’s got questionable relations with the state anyway. I’d say let him stew in Rikers for awhile.

  15. areaman says:

    The workers are so mad they recorded something.

    If they were really mad they would mess with the yogurt!!!

    • MishunAcomplisht says:

      Not if they’re effing human. Poison customers because you’re mad at the owner? Like that makes any sense…

      A decent way to accomplish the same thing is call up the Health Department with an insider tip – every week.

  16. plumbob says:

    Anytime an employer says, “The majority of my employees don’t want to unionize.” They do.

    Sometimes labor laws and unions can be counterproductive (like in the US education system) but people forget why they came to exist in the first place. Well here is your reminder.

    After reading that article it looks like the guy has been stealing worker’s tips and claiming them as a tax deduction, no paying overtime, not paying for all the hours worked, fired employees for attempting to unionize, refused to give employees breaks as required by law.

    People that view employers as being charitable for giving people jobs and are owed anything by their employees, more that 40 hours of work a week, are full of it

    • mike says:

      My God, a sane reply!

      Ultimately, the guy was a jerk for not treating his employees right. But a business owner should have the right to do whatever he wants to his business, even close it down regardless of the reason.

      • LadyTL says:

        True but if they want to run a business without potentially getting fined they need to obey all labor laws not just the ones they like.

      • plumbob says:

        If they close it down, they have to legitimately close it and have no further involvement with it.

        Laws that prevent businesses from closing in response to unionization exist because they don’t actually close. The reopen the next day having fired all their old employees and hung up a new sign outside, or if you are really lucky it is now owned by the former owners wife, son, sister, etc.

        This is just a tactic to skirt another labor law which says you cannot fire employees for trying to unionize.

      • kmw2 says:

        No, a business owner should not have the right to do whatever he wants with his business. He needs to stay within the law, just like everyone else. Preventing workers from unionizing is outside the law. He’s breaking the law. Would you say the same if he were pissing in the beer, or not paying his taxes, or shooting nails into customer’s hands for fun? He’d be doing whatever he wanted with his business, after all.

      • lakecountrydave says:

        I own my car thus by your reasoning I should have every right to what I want with it. For example drive it while drunk, at 100mph, in a school zone. The darn kids should be blamed if they get hit after all I own the car outright!

    • Firethorn says:

      I’ve been called anti-union a few times, but I agree with you. I’m actually simply against unions having too much power, or being ‘too big’. I believe there needs to be a balance. I still want unions to be possible due to things like this.

      Still, given that the employer has allegedly committed illegal acts – taking of tips, denying breaks, etc… Do they really need a union if the courts can slap him silly?

      • plumbob says:

        They need a union because there is no labor law enforcement in the US. This is a bipartisan issue, it is the same reason employers can get away with hiring illegals, no enforcement.

        In many countries the department or ministry of labor has great power to enforce the law and audit employers to ensure they are hiring people with the right work and are paying them all of their wages at the correct rate.

        In the United States however, the department of labor exists more or less in name only, with little real power or responsibility.

      • JiminyChristmas says:

        How big is ‘too big’? To be worth anything, a union has to be big enough to go toe to toe with whatever corporate entity they are negotiating with.

    • waltja26 says:

      And that is what the DOL is for. See here:

      http://www.dol.gov

      and here:

      http://www.labor.ny.gov/home

      • plumbob says:

        I don’t know anything about the NY Department of LAbor, but here in Iowa, the Attorney General couldn’t even nail a slaughterhouse for enslaving Guatemalan and Ecuadorian children. And that is no joke, they literally did not pay them and would not allow them to leave.

        Most labor departments in this country, certainly the national one, are useless and are eating from the hand of the people they are supposed to be policing.

        • MishunAcomplisht says:

          “most labor departments…are useless”. Okay do you have any data or proof to back that up or just empty venting on your part?

          In Colorado, I know several friends who have made use of them to fight unemployment being unfairly denied, and all won their cases, and further, one particularly bad employer who openly harassed women and threatened them with their jobs, and further cheated everyone on their paychecks, got spanked BIG time…

  17. Consumeristing says:

    What were the actual “abuses” that were recorded? Anti-union sentiment is not uncommon in a country with only 12% are unionized.

    • MMD says:

      It’s one thing to be against unions…it’s another to retaliate against people for talking about it. If that’s true, that’s the issue.

    • veg-o-matic says:

      An employer telling employees that they will be fired or otherwise out of jobs if they choose to form a union is “abuse,” and illegal in this country.

      • EverCynicalTHX says:

        So the employees caught him on tape threat saying he would fire workers if they voted for a union? I don’t think so. He may have said that if the restaurant goes unoin he will have to shut down and he has a riht to voice his opinion – that’s not a violation of any labor laws btw,

  18. jeffjohnvol says:

    I’m with the owner on this one. No one says he has to stay open if they unionize. Unions are destroying this country.

    • kmw2 says:

      How are unions destroying this country? Do you really suffer so much for a minimum wage, a 40-hour work week, and work safety rules that mean you haven’t been chopped into hamburger yet? Unions did all that for you. You’re welcome.

    • MishunAcomplisht says:

      I really hate people like you. It’s okay with you for anyone else to be sexually harassed, work 18 hours a day, have their jobs threatened every day, and no possibility of a career or affording anything (i.e., your comment unions, which protect against all these things are “ruining the country”, but the second anything happens to you, you probably scream and yell and fuss. I say it is people like YOU who are ruining MY country.

  19. Cry Havoc says:

    Well if you want to get really anal about it, record apparently didn’t originally mean to “put something down in writing or other permanent form,” so saying they recorded it isn’t accurate either. But seriously, who cares?

    http://www.word-origins.com/definition/record.html

    To record something is etymologically to commit it to one’s ‘heart’. The word comes via Old French recorder from Latin recordārī ‘go over in one’s mind, ponder, remember’. This was a compound verb based on Latin cor ‘heart’ (source of English concord, cordial (14th c.), courage, etc), used metaphorically in the sense ‘mind’. The notion of ‘putting something down in writing or other permanent form’ did not emerge until the Old French stage in the word’s history.

  20. Mold says:

    Unions did not destroy education, no matter how many times that lie is repeated.
    Unions did not destroy this country. The fallacy that they did shows historical ignorance.
    12% unionization is after st reagan made it clear that literally no corporate criminals would be charge for union-busting.
    If you-all beleeve unions are eveel…let me volunteer you for being breaker boys. You can also decline vacations, benefit packages, and 40-hour workweeks.
    Oh, Europe does fine with well-paid workers.

    • madanthony says:

      Oh, Europe does fine with well-paid workers.

      Right. That’s why Greece had to be bailed out by the IMF and EU, because they were doing just fine.

    • MishunAcomplisht says:

      I’m really surprised nobody on Fox (faux) News hasn’t done some historical documentary reminiscing about how wonderful child labor, 18 hour workdays and the like were in the late 1800’s, how dammit, those things built this country, and how wonderful it used to be that strikers were murdered, like they deserved. Perhaps Glenn Beck is planning that as we speak.

  21. rmorin says:

    Then update the labor laws and cut out the middle man. Everyone then gets that 1.6% of their salary back, and you have fair labor laws. If these standards do not pass then people do not think they are fair and should not exist anyway.

    This boss violated labor laws and should be held accountable. If you think that unions in contemporary United States are making “fair” working conditions and wages, you are incorrect. Labor laws do that. Unions argue over whether a janitors wage should be 22 or 23 dollars an hour who would normally make minimum wage.

    • veg-o-matic says:

      Who the hell do you think got labor laws into place to begin with? Organized workers.

      The government didn’t just decide, out of the goodness of its heart – and against its own capitalist interests – to put into place a comprehensive system of worker protections. A system which still largely favors the employer anyway.

  22. Big Mama Pain says:

    “They treat us like normal restaurant workers” There, fixed it for you. And by the way, a union WOULD put a restaurant out of business. Maybe these crybabies don’t like having jobs.

    • DorsalRootGanglion says:

      They should work in any conditions, ever, also! They should be forced to work in the dark, in places that smell bad, while being beaten. Just like you, eh? What do you do for a living again?

  23. Maxamus says:

    What’s wrong with a boss saying if a union comes in it will force him to close down?

    And gee, if you don’t like being a busboy or waiter/waitress at a restaurant, well, go somewhere else.

  24. shufflemoomin says:

    Standard fare for the restaurant business worldwide. It sucks, but your only choice is to change to a different industry if you don’t like it.

    • MishunAcomplisht says:

      by the way, mentalities like yours are what make this country suck.

      NO, another answer is to HELLO, fight for justice and change.

  25. waicool says:

    consumerist sneaks in an obvious propaganda piece for the union organizers. one line statement from the business, the rest is union advocacy. i expect more from the consurmerist.

  26. Mold says:

    Janitors making 23/hour? Only wingnut dreams. A quick perusal of the local job market should suffice to show this canard for the falsehood it is.
    Must be tough hearing that some folks think unions are useful. How dare we!

  27. ap0 says:

    Sorry, but having been a Teamster for three years, I just don’t really feel much sympathy for unionization stories. I worked nights at UPS while in college, and the union mostly served to protect the lifers from having to work hard while the young naive kids with strong work ethics (me) would have to pick up their slack. The lifers would work really slow, let trailers back up, then a supervisor would jump in to try to get things back on schedule and then they’d file a grievance for management doing union work (late packages and the subsequent lost revenue be damned). We had okay pay and full benefits even as part timers, which was nice, but being a union man for the rest of my life would have driven me insane. Unions do not do anything based on merit, and that’s why they do such a disservice to people.