Workers at SF’s most decorated burrito maker have won important reforms at the 45-year-old business after filing complaints with SF’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement and the California Labor Commissioner. Those groups eventually fined La Taqueria about $600,000 in labor violations and penalties, mostly for unpaid overtime, sick leave, and health care costs.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported the story, speaking with four women workers who brought the changes — and still speak highly of the taqueria they’ve helped to make a better workplace.
In the past, La Taqueria has touted its labor practices to SF Eater and others: Owner Miguel Jara refers to longtime employees as “my kids” and continually increases their pay: “nobody makes minimum wage,” he said in January 2017.
But the city and state investigation exposed a divide between newer and older employees, and points to labor law violations that can be all too common at small, family-run businesses staffed largely by immigrant workers who might have difficulty advocating for their rights.
After two relatively new La Taq employees, identified by pseudonyms in the Chronicle, were fired on behavioral grounds in 2016, they found a local organization that helps low-wage workers fight wage theft and discrimination, Young Workers United. There, they learned of several violations they’d suffered:
One: They hadn’t been getting overtime pay. Employees in non-managerial positions who work more than eight hours a day must be paid 1.5 times overtime — but La Taq employees, who worked four 10-hour shifts a week, weren’t paid overtime.
Two: Under SF Law, they were owed one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours they worked, to be used to care for themselves or their children — hours La Taqueria wasn’t tracking or giving out.
And, three: They learned that SF’s Health Care Security Ordinance requires businesses with more than 20 employees to set aside a certain amount — now at least $1.89 per employee per hour — toward their health insurance or health care savings plan. La Taqueria employed 28 workers at the time, but didn’t follow that rule.
Those former workers and two employees still at La Taqueria approached owner Miguel Jara and his sons, Angel and Jesus, with informal complaints. In response, the business filed paperwork to legalize the restaurant’s four-day, 10-hour work week system as an alternative workweek (with staff approval by vote). The restaurant also started calculating paid sick leave.
But the Jaras didn’t address the health care mandate costs and some other issues, so in summer 2017, with the help of the Asian Law Caucus, the four workers filed formal complaints. The city and state started investigations of La Taqueria, and in November 2017, the fines rolled in: About $500,000 in unpaid overtime, unpaid health care expenses, and civil and city penalties. The director of SF’s Labor Standards Enforcement office called La Taqueria “very responsive” in paying its fines and changing its practices.
But after paying up and making changes, the Jaras fired seven of their then 26 workers — including the two employees who had complained. (The restaurant says they still pay for SF’s Health Care Security Ordinance, and move wasn’t intended to put them below the 20 worker threshold for that ordinance). The two fired employees (and a third) filed retaliation complaints, and after a six-month state-mediated settlement process (in which the Jaras did not admit wrongdoing) the restaurant settled for $100,000 in lost wages and penalties.
In the end, La Taqueria’s violations alone don’t make it a particularly notable case. Local restaurants of all kinds, including higher-end Mexican restaurant Tacolicious, are frequently hit with fines or settle wage theft lawsuits. But La Taq’s prominence — which likely attracted scrutiny — coupled with its stated commitment to workers makes its story stand out.