A pair of Flushing nail salon workers scored some payback against an employer who allegedly canned them for complaining about substandard working conditions, they announced this week, setting what one nonprofit called a legal precedent that could change the fortunes for low-wage workers across the city.
In 2007, Meng Ji and Zheng Zhu worked at a Manhattan nail salon under what they alleged were sweatshop-like conditions, but Tuesday the pair announced at the Flushing Workers Center that they had settled a court case with their former employer.
“The former workers of Belle World Beauty were very determined and persistent,” said Sarah Ahn, of the center. “If it wasn’t for [their] resolve and the support they received from other workers, we would not be here today celebrating this victory.”
The Flushing Workers Center is housed in the basement of St. George’s Episcopal Church, at 135-32 38th Ave., and acts as an outlet for low-wage immigrant workers to try and better their working conditions.
In this case, Zhu and Ji alleged the owners of Belle World Beauty violated state and federal labor laws by paying workers $100 a day regardless of how many hours were worked, according to court documents, which indicated they typically toiled from about 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. When Zhu and Ji complained, they were fired about a month later, they said in court documents.
The two workers eventually brought their case to court with intentions to sue Belle World Beauty, though the owners were not charged with any crime.
Before Zhu and Ji could legally proceed in state Supreme Court, a judge had to give the green light to ensure the suit was not frivolous — which is where the precedent-setting decision came into play, according to another group.
The suit was filed on behalf of Ji and Zhu by another nonprofit called The Justice Will be Served Campaign, which seeks to fight unfair working conditions in delivery, nail salon, restaurant, hotel and deli services in the tri-state area.
According to a spokeswoman for The Justice Will Be Served Campaign, the judge’s decision to allow the suit to proceed was groundbreaking.
“The decision recognizes the workers’ right to verbally complain about poor working conditions and sue when fired in retaliation,” the campaign said in a statement.
In past cases, civil suits of this nature were thrown out if the workers did not file formal complaints with the state attorney general, but in this case the judge ruled that alerting the AG is not a prerequisite to filing a suit in civil court and thus allowed the case to proceed.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community News Group
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