U.S. Labor Department says Austin restaurants violating labor laws

U.S. Department of Labor officials here in Austin announced they will expand enforcement of the restaurant industry. They say violations among local businesses continue to remain higher than the national average.

U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour division investigators held a press conference Wednesday after finding what they called an unacceptable rate of labor law compliance in Austin restaurants.

"One would hope that a reputation for great restaurants should be accompanied by great labor standards. We don't see that right now,” said Dr. David Weil, Department of Labor.

Dr. David Weil says his office based his findings on a complaint-driven investigation of 60 Austin restaurants from October 2015 to June of this year and found violations in 95 percent of them.

The DOL would not immediately provide names of the businesses because of the open case status.

Violations included workers only being paid in tips or not being paid for all the hours they worked and people not being compensated for time-and-a-half after working more than 40 hours.

"What makes these violations so significant is these tend to be very low wage workers. And so often they're not even being paid the minimum wage and that means that they and their families have a difficult time meeting the most basic bills and needs in a household budget and that's why we take it very seriously,” said Weil.

In the first nine months of the year the DOL said it collected $330-thousand dollars in back wages for 500 restaurant workers.

The Texas Restaurant Association released a statement regarding the new figures:

“We take these allegations very seriously, and those who are in violation should be held accountable. However, the DOL has historically portrayed an inaccurate picture of the restaurant industry.  In Texas, nearly 43,600 restaurants account for over one million jobs, and the vast majority of those owner/operators are hardworking, law abiding business owners, who are proud to play by the rules.” 

-Richie Jackson, CEO, Texas Restaurant Association

Ana Gonzalez with the Workers Defense Project would disagree, "This report shows and supports what the workers defense project has seen for years."

She says 20 to 30 people attend their weekly meetings with complaints. She is glad to see the DOL put more of a focus on the industry.

"I think it's very important that we're paying attention to this and moving forward to find a solution,” she said.

To learn more about how to attend a Workers Defense Project weekly meeting, click here.

To report a violation at your workplace call 1-866-4USWAGE.