Alleging that restaurant workers have been shorted on pay at La Hacienda, 515 S. Park St., the Madison Worker's Rights Center will hold a rally there Saturday around noon in hopes of starting a boycott of the restaurant.
"We want to get the community involved," says Patrick Hickey, director of the worker rights center. "We don't want to just resolve individual complaints, but change the structure of the work environment."
Workers at La Hacienda were forced to falsify timecards, punching out before they had finished their work, Hickey says. He estimates that the restaurant staff is owed between $3,000 and $11,000 for unpaid work over the past few years.
But Victor Arellano, attorney for Hacienda owner David Herrera, argues that the WRC isn't presenting evidence to back up its charges and that the rally is an attempt to intimidate his client.
In a letter to the workers center, Arellano writes that WRC is continuing to "bully the owner into paying money to disgruntled workers who continue to extort money from a good man."
"We haven't received any complaints from workers." says Arellano. "Give us due process. [WRC activists] are not lawyers. We're not going to try a case through the media."
But Hickey says he sent Herrera the complaints of five workers a few days ago.
"Five workers vouching for each other is pretty good evidence," says Hickey. "Timecards are useless if they're forged."
Hickey also points to an interview (in Spanish, available here in MP3 format) with some of Hacienda's workers on WORT's "En Nuestro Patio."
"Lots of restaurants have this problem" says Hickey. "Hacienda is a restaurant that has a reputation for screwing with employees"
In 2006, owner Herrera paid more than $38,000 in back wages after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor. The restaurant was cited for not keeping accurate records in 2003 and 2004.
"There were problems with record-keeping." says Arellano. "But we've fixed it now. I personally met with all the employees and told them to let me know if there's a problem, we will deal with it."
Arellano added that if workers, with legal representation, came to Herrera with evidence of unpaid wages, they would be re-paid.