by Christian Wade
Connecticut’s top law enforcement officer is taking aim at a rest stop operator with a legal challenge alleging it cheated food service workers out of wages they were owed.
The lawsuit, filed by Attorney General William Tong, claims plaza operator Food Project LLC owes workers at Dunkin Donuts, Subway and other rest stop businesses collectively more than $2.7 in lost wages for underpaying them under state labor laws.
The AG’s office is seeking another $2.7 million in damages and $722,000 in civil penalties it says were “previously assessed on the company but never paid.”
Tong said the company was “put on notice” several years ago that their subcontractors were violating state law by underpaying workers, and his office was left with “no choice” but to file the lawsuit in an effort “to ensure this egregious wage theft never occurs again.”
“They have continuously refused to make their workers whole despite repeated warnings and demands,” Tong said in a statement. “These workers did their job, and they deserve to be paid their full compensation.”
Under a 2009 contract with the state Department of Transportation, the company is authorized to oversee food service at 23 state-owned service plazas along several highways to the state, including Interstate 95. The company contracts with food service providers, but is required to ensure they comply with the state’s standard wage laws.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint about non-payment of wages at a Taco Bell at one of the highway rest stops, according to the AG’s office.
Tong said at least 2,068 workers at Taco Bell, Chipotle, Dunkin Donuts and Subway restaurants were impacted by the wage violations from August 29, 2017 through to Sept. 20, 2019. The investigation found many workers — but not all — were paid the state’s $14 per hour minimum wage, but were not compensated for mandatory fringe benefits.
The New Haven-based company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the AG’s lawsuit.
Under state statute, the Labor Commissioner sets a standard wage rate for each classification of employee, including minimum hourly wages plus a thirty percent surcharge to cover fringe benefits such as the cost of healthcare, leave time or retirement.
Tong said the state Department of Labor notified Project Service that the company was violating those rules, but said it has “refused to pay workers what they are owed, and some subcontractors continue to deny workers the full compensation they are due.”
He said the state “continues to receive complaints” and is “actively investigating” other potential instances of wage theft at Connecticut service plazas.
– – –
Christian Wade is a contributor to The Center Square.
Photo “Fast Food Worker” by Daniel Lee CC2.0.