Domino's Pizza workers win settlement holding parent corporation accountable for franchise's labor law violations
The pizza shop workers said the franchise robbed them of wages and forced them to work in sweatshop-like condition
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2014, 8:56 PM
PHOTO COURTESY OF NMASS
Carlos Rodríguez Herrera (second from l.) discusses the lawsuit filed against Domino’s Corp. with the help of NMASS (National Mobilization Against Sweatshops)
In New York, the city with the greatest concentration of billionaires in the country, $1.3 million may not sound like much. But the great majority of New Yorkers don't belong to that exclusive club: They are the proverbial 99%, and for them it is an awful lot of money.
For 61 workers at a Domino’s pizza shop on East 89th St. in Manhattan, last Wednesday’s announcement that they had won a settlement for that amount — holding Domino’s Pizza Corp. accountable for the labor-law violations of its franchise, DPNY Inc. — was a huge victory. For the workers, all of them Latino, African and Bangladeshi, this was about more than money.
“The goal in this legal action was to get Domino’s Pizza corporation to take responsibility,” said the Rev. Robert Brashear, pastor of West-Park Presbyterian Church at Amsterdam Ave. and 86th St. in Manhattan. Brashear says he received a letter from Domino’s threatening legal action if he continued with his “negative statements.”
“Our attorneys responded with a simple question: Are those statements true or not? We never heard from them again,” Brashear said. “It took three years of litigation, but this settlement sends a strong message that corporations cannot hide behind their franchises, declaring bankruptcy to avoid responsibility.”
Brashear, a member of the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS), a grassroots organization that helped the pizza shop workers in their struggle against wage theft and sweatshop-like conditions, noted that important as this victory is, it is not enough.
“The laws need to be strengthened,” he said.
Carlos Rodríguez Herrera, 29, a Mexican immigrant, had been working at Domino’s for two years as a deliveryman when in 2007 — fed up with the exploitation he was subjected to — he complained about being robbed of as much as 20 hours of pay per week.
“I was fired on the spot,” Rodríguez Herrera recalled. “But imagine, I worked six days a week from 10 in the morning to eight in the evening for $4.40 an hour, and they only paid me for 40 or 45 hours. ”
Rodríguez Herrera, who said DPNY employees were not given lunch breaks, had to buy their own uniforms and even had to pay for delivery bicycle repairs, went to the State Department of Labor with his grievances. Two years went by and the government agency did nothing.
“Call back in six months, they would tell me when I called to inquire about my case,” said Rodríguez Herrera, who noted that Gilberto Cano, another former Domino’s employee, told him about NMASS.
“We contacted them and began to organize other workers and eventually many more joined us. With the Legal Aid Society we sued the Domino’s franchise and Domino’s corporation.”
Not surprisingly, Domino’s tried to pull one of the many hat tricks rogue businesses have used for years to rip off its low-wage employees.
“The owner filed for bankruptcy,” Rodríguez Herrera said.
But the workers kept on organizing with employees from other restaurants, students, community members and faith leaders.
Their efforts paid off when the district court bought their argument that the corporation was involved in training storeowners, maintaining payroll data, and establishing working conditions and, in a rare move, allowed Legal Aid to include it as a defendant.
“We are not stopping here,” Rodriguez Herrera said. “We are calling on the workers at other stores to demand that Domino’s put a stop to wage theft and sweatshop conditions in all its franchises.”