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New York immigrant workers demonstrate at Theater District restaurant accused of wage theft

Immigrants and their advocates protested Friday outside a Midtown restaurant that they say stole thousands of dollars of workers’ wages.

At least five employees of La Macarena, a Latino sports bar and restaurant on W. 48th St. in the Theater District, say they are owed more than $18,000 in back wages.

“We are here to demand our salaries. It’s not fair to work and not get paid,” said Yoel Pérez, a recent immigrant from Mexico.

Cristian Contreras, 18, started working at La Macarena in October, just over a month after arriving from Mexico. He said he worked at the restaurant for a month and a half, but only received a week’s pay. The restaurant owes you more than $3,000.

“I came to work in the restaurant because they promised me better pay,” he said. “I came here from Mexico because of the economic situation there. I wanted to move on, but then we don’t get paid.”

Contreras held up a plastic shopping bag filled with bad checks and flipped through them. He liked the job: the pay seemed decent, and he was learning to cook in a restaurant. But as his salary fell behind, it seemed less likely that he would be compensated. The owner assured him that he would be paid, but he never did. Finally, he quit.

“They can’t make us work and not pay us,” Contreras said.

Protesters outside La Macarena restaurant said Friday that the business stole the wages of immigrant workers.

“The most difficult thing is that I can’t send money to my family, but yes, life here also complicates me,” he added.

“The lack of payment affected me a lot, because I couldn’t pay my debts, I couldn’t pay the rent on time, I couldn’t pay my expenses. The most difficult thing was when I couldn’t send money to my family,” said Yoel Pérez, 21. “I had a very bad time.”

Advocates pointed to wage theft as a growing problem, especially for new immigrants in New York City, who are especially vulnerable to wage theft. With the increase in asylum seekers from the southern border, the problem has skyrocketed in recent months.

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“The new asylum seekers and all these newcomers are already taking jobs that pay them $7, $8, $9 an hour, much less than minimum wage, and they are taking abusive conditions, unfortunately, because they need the money.” Nilbia Coyote said. , the executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, or NICE.

Nilbia Coyote, executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, leads a protest Friday outside La Macarena restaurant on W. 48th St. in the theater district.

Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to wage theft because they have limited recourse. Fear of retaliation and language barriers can make it difficult to recover lost wages.

At the demonstration on Friday night, dozens demonstrated with NICE, blocking the entrance to La Macarena. Halfway through the protest, defenders and migrants marched into the nearly empty restaurant.

“That’s the only way to make change,” Coyote said. “If you make noise, if you are becoming a barrier for customers, you are affecting their pockets. Unfortunately, that is the reality. They only take action when you hit their money.”

More than $1 billion in wages are stolen in the US each year, according to the Cornell University Worker Institute.

Last month, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg introduced a new program, called the Worker Protection Unit, that would help victims of wage theft obtain remedies.

Several attempts to reach La Macarena restaurant went unanswered.

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