Catalina Island diner owners underpaid workers, required 18-hour days, D.A. says

Los Angeles County prosecutors charged the owners of a popular old-school Catalina Island diner and pizza restaurant with withholding over a half a million dollars in wages from their employees and expecting them to work 18-hour days.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Thursday it had charged Jack Arthur Tucey, 80, and Yueh Mei Tucey, 75, with felony grand labor and wage theft, among other charges. The Tuceys, a married couple who run three restaurants and a hotel in Avalon, face a maximum sentence of 22 years in prison if convicted, according to prosecutors.

The district attorney’s office said the couple would have their workers rotate around their Avalon businesses, regularly working 12-hour days or longer. For the overtime, Dist. Atty. George Gascón said employees would be paid only minimum wage — a violation of California law requiring that workers earn above their hourly rates when they work days longer than eight hours.

Prosecutors also accused the couple of filing fraudulent statements with the state’s Employment Development Department, concealing the real wages they were paying to their workers.

“What you will see in this case is individuals that for years have been operating in Catalina Island exploiting many workers,” Gascón said at a news conference Thursday.

Gascón said the office has identified 18 workers who were victims of wage theft, many of them immigrants who were living on the couple’s property. He said he believed additional workers would soon come forward.

The Tuceys were arrested Thursday, according to the district attorney’s office, and could not be reached for comment.

Since 2001, the couple have owned multiple businesses across the tourist town, according to prosecutors, who said they now own a hotel and three restaurants: Original Jack’s Country Kitchen, Mrs. T’s Chinese Kitchen and Avalon Bake Shop and Original Antonio’s Pizzeria and Deli.

Lilia García-Brower, the California labor commissioner, said her team’s investigation into the owners began in 2017 and determined that everyone from busboys to maintenance workers had been systemically underpaid, with some forced to clock out prematurely in the payroll system to avoid their overtime hours getting documented.

If they left the job, she said, they faced eviction, which deterred employees from confronting the owners.

“Many of these employees were also living in the properties owned by these defendants, which placed them in a particularly vulnerable situation,” García-Brower said. “All the workers lived on Catalina Island, they were geographically isolated and feared being blacklisted if speaking up.”

She said last month her team conducted an audit of wages paid to the 18 workers interviewed and found they were owed more than $1 million in unpaid wages from 2008 to 2022.

Court records show Jack Tucey had been sued twice over failure to pay wages. In July 2016, his handyman, Francisco Rodriguez, alleged he’d often worked six days a week but was never paid an overtime rate. In January 2021, two employees of Original Jack’s Country Kitchen — Lin Mei Qian and Xiv Peng Sonog — sued the couple, alleging they had never received overtime pay or the meal periods they were entitled to under California law.

It’s the second case to come out of the district attorney’s Labor Justice Unit, formed in September to prosecute wage theft cases. That month, the office filed charges against owners of two garment businesses in South Los Angeles, who allegedly paid workers as little as $6 an hour.

Original News Source Link – LA Times

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