Following extensive investigations, federal investigators have unveiled grave labor violations committed by the owners of 14 Subway restaurants in the Bay Area. John Meza, Jessica Meza, and their associate Hamza Ayesh were found guilty of directing children as young as 14 to use dangerous equipment, working minors for unlawful hours, not paying their employees regularly, and issuing hundreds of bounced checks. Additionally, these owners were caught illegally withholding tips from employees.
Details of the Investigation
• The investigation found evidence of multiple employees, including teenagers, operating hazardous equipment like ovens, toasters, and cardboard balers. Many workers reported burns and other injuries as a result.
• Employers reportedly coerced their staff, especially children, into not cooperating with the federal inquiry. This extended to threats against children who expressed their concerns or attempted to exercise their legal rights.
• In a rare directive, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has mandated the business owners to either sell or shut down their establishments by November 27, 2023.
• The accused will have to pay $475,000 in minimum wage, overtime, and tips to 184 workers, along with an equal amount in liquidated damages. Moreover, a penalty of $150,000 has been levied. The court also imposed an additional $12,000 in punitive damages due to their retaliatory actions.
Locations Under Scrutiny
The following Subway Bay Area outlets are currently under investigation:
• 2777 Lone Tree Way, Antioch, California
• 1026 Oak St., Suite #103, Clayton, California
• 301 Sun Valley Mall, Concord, California
• And 11 other locations spread across California.
Origins of the Investigation
The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division began its probe earlier this year when allegations from three teenage workers emerged in an article by The Press Democrat newspaper. These teens claimed the Subway franchise owners had robbed them of their wages.
Response from Involved Parties
Subway’s corporate office, the Mezas, and Ayesh have so far not responded to requests for comments on the issue. However, Arkady Itkin, the defense lawyer, stated, “The parties have reached a settlement. Any payments of that settlement will be subject to my client’s ability to pay, which at this time and for the foreseeable future is very, very modest.”
Department of Labor’s Stance
Ruben Rosalez, the Wage and Hour Regional Administrator in San Francisco, commended the courage of the young individuals who came forward, ensuring the business owners were held accountable. Marc Pilotin, Regional Solicitor of Labor in San Francisco, remarked on the gravity of the contempt the employers showed for their workers’ safety, dignity, and rights. , which operates in over 200 languages. The division also offers digital solutions such as their free Timesheet App, available for both Android and iOS devices in English and Spanish, designed to aid workers in keeping track of their work hours and pay.
Implications for Other Businesses
The decisive action taken against the Bay Area Subway franchisees serves as a stark reminder for businesses, both large and small, of the severe repercussions of violating labor laws. The Department of Labor is consistently on the lookout for establishments that exploit their workforce, particularly minors, and will not hesitate to impose penalties and sanctions for such transgressions.
Subway’s Franchise Operations
This incident raises questions about the oversight and responsibility of franchisors. Doctor’s Associates LLC, the franchisor and operator behind Subway, was reportedly aware of the ongoing litigation against the Mezas, yet permitted them to continue operating their Subway franchises. This has sparked a debate on whether franchisors should play a more active role in ensuring that franchisees uphold not just brand standards but also legal and ethical obligations.
Resources for Compliance with Child Labor Laws
The Wage and Hour Division offers various resources to aid employers in adhering to child labor laws. Its YouthRules! initiative aims at offering safe work experiences for teens and provides valuable information about protections for young workers. This is achieved in collaboration with youth, parents, employers, and educators.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates that most US employees be compensated with at least the federal minimum wage for all work hours. Any work over 40 hours a week should be compensated at a time and a half the regular rate of pay.
For more information or assistance, the Wage and Hour Division encourages employers and employees alike to reach out to them through their toll-free helpline: 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243).