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Baggers to be compensated

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A year and a half after a state senator publicized their plight, an Elmhurst supermarket has agreed to pay $331,000 to reimburse several grocery baggers who only worked for tips.

The state Labor Department found that Green Food Corp., which owns the C-town Supermarket at 94-53 Corona Ave., owed employees $198,248.72 in minimum wages and overtime for work done between June 2004 and March 2007.

The issue came to a head in May 2008, when then-state Sen. John Sabini held a news conference in front of the store with the local food workers union. The baggers were immigrants and may have been more willing to accept the arrangement for short-term income, Sabini said.

“It continues to frustrate me how employers can continue to flaunt the law and simply not pay their workers. We are glad that Green Food Corp. agreed to pay workers the wages they owe them, and to reinstate the worker they fired,” Labor Commissioner Patricia Smith said in a statement.

Most of the underpayments were for three baggers who were paid no wages at all, only tips by customers, though the store owed $30,000 to other employees for improper wage payments. The total settlement amount equals $331,000 when interest and penalties are included.

The baggers also did deliveries as assigned and were responsible for cleaning their work area, Smith said. Their only compensation was tips received from customers, and Green Food Corp. took a portion of those and used them to pay New York withholding and unemployment insurance taxes.

In addition, an employee was fired for speaking with the Labor Department about violations, Smith said. As part of the settlement, the supermarket agreed to reinstate him and pay him lost compensation. The employee returned to work Jan. 18.

State law now dictates that an employer who retaliates against an employee for reporting labor law violations or cooperating with the Labor Department now faces a fine between $2,000 and $10,000. Previously, the penalty ranged from $200 to $1,000.

The Elmhurst settlement follows a number of prior cases involving supermarket baggers. In 2008 and 2009, the Labor Department settled seven cases, arranging settlements totaling approximately $420,000.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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