Flushing, NY—With placards reading “Pay the unpaid wages!” and “Shame on you, Chong Min Mun,” seven former employees of the closed Flushing banquet hall Young Vin Kwan and its parent company, Seoul Plaza Ltd., protested outside the office of owner Chong Min Mun today in Flushing, Queens. Mr. Mun owes fifteen cooks, waitresses, waiters, busboys, and other workers more than $400,000 in unpaid wages, minimum wage, overtime, and liquidated damages, according to a suit soon headed for trial.
The restaurant workers—nearly all from South Korea—sought legal advice from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) after Mr. Mun had abruptly shuttered his restaurant in February 2005 without paying the workers at least five weeks wages. Many of them worked at least 70 hours a week without receiving proper overtime, and many were paid well below the minimum wage. The workers, represented by Steven Choi, AALDEF attorney and director of the AALDEF Korean Workers Project, filed suit against Mr. Mun in December.
“My salary was only $30 for a 12-hour day,” said Ken, a former Young Vin Kwan waiter who spoke at the press conference. “Imagine thinking of your own wage as a bonusyou don’t really expect it because it is so extremely small to begin with.”
Mr. Mun held a press conference just to announce he would immediately pay the wages that he admitted he failed to pay them. But eight months have gone by, and these workers haven’t seen a single dollar, said Mr. Choi. “Empty promises do not pay his workers’ rent, or feed their familieswe demand nothing less than fair payment of the wages he owes these workers. We are ready to come to a reasonable settlement, but Mr. Mun has refused to compensate these workers for the wages they rightfully earned.”
New York City Council Member John C. Liu stated, “Immigrant workers render critical services in our communities: they cook and deliver our food, do our laundry, drive our taxis, and clean our offices. Unfortunately, these workers are often invisible and have few resources to fight unscrupulous employers who break the labor laws. Organizations like AALDEF are vital resources in the fight to protect workers rights.”
Despite repeated assurances he would pay back the workers, Mr. Mun has yet to do so. Instead, in June 2005, Mr. Mun attempted to buy back the Seoul Plaza property with $1.5 million in certified checks, belying his own claims that he could not repay the workers. The Young Vin Kwan banquet hall was located at the prestigious old Seoul Plaza, a landmark shopping and entertainment complex on Northern Boulevard and 150th Place, in the heart of the Korean American community in Flushing. The current owners of the Seoul Plaza complex are not affiliated with Mr. Mun.
The Korean Workers Project provides direct legal services free of charge to low-wage Korean immigrant workers and offers community education and outreach. By combining these two approaches, the Korean Workers Project seeks to protect the rights of these Korean immigrant workers and to help them achieve social and economic justice.