Hundreds of restaurant workers and community members are calling for a boycott of Calavera, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Oakland, after several kitchen workers were fired from a job they say was riddled with abuse and wage theft.
Flor Crisostomo, originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, and four other colleagues have filed a class-action lawsuit against the restaurant’s owners Christopher Pastena and Michael Iglesias for repeatedly violating labor laws.
According to the former employees, the employers did not pay minimum wage, failed to compensate the employees for overtime work and did not provide legally required time for breaks and lunch.
“When we worked there, they started firing workers by text message or they’d just take them off the schedule without saying anything,” said Crisostomo in an interview with the Post. “Some of us would work for 12 or 14 hours straight with no break, and we didn’t know our rights.”
Crisostomo also says the owners used her to appropriate traditional recipes of Oaxacan food—such as tamales and moles—which she knows because she is indigenous to the Mexican region.
For Crisostomo, the experience has led her and several other restaurant workers to call for community action in educating immigrant workers of their labor rights and revealing to customers the conditions that those working in kitchens often face.
After being fired from Calavera, the workers formed the Bay Area Restaurant Workers Movement (BARWM) to bring attention to local labor rights.
According to a statement released by Calavera’s management to the Post, the restaurant has files contradicting the former workers’ claims that they were not paid minimum wage, given payment for overtime or made breaks mandatory.
“We value all of our employees at Calavera and work hard to maintain a healthy and supportive work environment, as is evidenced in the positive support we’ve had from the Calavera staff,” according to the statement.
It continues to say that the restaurant’s ownership and management is a multi-cultural group with longtime roots in Oakland.
During last week’s First Friday, over 100 people picketed outside Calavera, rallying for the former employees and calling for reparations for the wage theft and abuse they say they faced as immigrant workers and enlightening potential customers of their experiences.
“Undocumented workers are the most likely to be exploited due to the fact they have little knowledge of labor laws in the states that they’re employed in,” said Shonda Roberts of the Oakland Livable Wage Assembly.
“A lot of our sisters and brothers who are undocumented also don’t speak up against abuse because they’re afraid of retaliation and being fired,” Roberts said.
According to BARWM, workers’ legal rights include a 10-minute break after four hours of work, a lunch break after five and a half hours of work, a minimum wage of $12.55 an hour and paid sick days after 90 days of work.
“The majority of kitchen workers are people of color, and Oakland earns the fifth highest revenue for restaurants in the country,” said Crisostomo. “We are calling on the Oakland community to help us build a conscious movement for justice.”
“I understand the conditions many of my colleagues work under, in fear of being fired if they stand up for their rights,” she said. “But the violation of our rights will continue to happen unless we do something about it.”