County of Santa Clara New Enforcement Program to Fight for Owed Wages and Food Workers’ Rights

Initiative enables County to suspend food facility permits from businesses with outstanding judgments and protect vulnerable workers from wage theft

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.— The County of Santa Clara today announced that it is launching the Food Permit Enforcement Program, a new enforcement tool to help fight for worker rights and fair wages. The County’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) and the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) launched the Food Permit Enforcement Program, through which OLSE and DEH will exercise the County’s authority to suspend food permits from vendors with outstanding wage theft judgments. The new program is one of several efforts OLSE is implementing to address a pervasive problem that is disproportionately affecting vulnerable employees, many of them immigrants, women and low-wage workers.

“Many of the individuals employed in the food industry are immigrants who are more vulnerable to unethical labor practices,” said County of Santa Clara Supervisor Cindy Chavez. “We must give a voice to these employees. Helping them collect the wages they are owed, which they earned through hard, honest work and labor, is only one of many steps we are taking to protect their rights.” 

A County analysis in 2015 found that Santa Clara County received the highest number of wage theft claims per capita in the state of California, prompting action by the Board of Supervisors to create OLSE. According to OLSE’s analysis of 1,743 judgments filed between January 2015 and September 2019, restaurant owners in this county owe nearly $5 million in back wages to employees—an average of about $2,900 per employee.

“For the first time in Santa Clara County, businesses will be held accountable if they have wage theft judgements against them,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese, one of the champions in the creation of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. “Enforcing wage laws will benefit workers and level the playing field for law abiding businesses paying their workers what they are due.”

The County will start enforcing wage theft judgments in Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and two central zip codes in San Jose (95112 and 95113), with plans to expand into a countywide enforcement program covering all fifteen cities that comprise Santa Clara County. All three cities requested to be part of this initiative at the earliest possible opportunity and are strong advocates of the program. The initial four jurisdictions include an estimated 2,100 food permits. Starting today, OLSE will have an attorney-staffed advice line for workers and business owners who have questions about this program: 1-866-870-7725.

“This sort of enforcement is long overdue. As one employee going up against a business, it can be intimidating and challenging to fight for our wages, even though it’s money that we earned and worked hard for,” said Tess Brillante, a worker and victim of wage theft. “For a long time, I had no one to turn to for collection of judgments. It’s reassuring to know that the County of Santa Clara is now going to bat for us and holding business owners accountable.” 

“Our goal is not to take away food permits, but rather to help business owners come into compliance by paying their workers what they’ve actually earned,” said Betty Duong, Manager of OLSE. “We encourage all workers and employers with questions or concerns to contact us so we can work together as a community to protect workers’ rights and support businesses doing the right thing.” 

If the County OLSE becomes aware of a judgment against a retail food vendor, OLSE staff will work with the business to resolve it through a series of notifications. If, despite these efforts, the business refuses to comply with an outstanding judgment, then the County may begin proceedings to suspend the business’s County-issued Food Facility Permit. That would require the business to close and to refrain from conducting any food-related business. The County would provide public notice of the suspension and reason for closure on the DEH​ and OLSE websites and the SCCDineOut web page and mobile app. Additionally, DEH will place a red placard outside the business’s doors to show the facility was closed by the County. 

“Our partnership provides another level of protection for food service industry workers who may not be able to protect themselves from wage theft,” said Michael Balliet, Director of the Department of Environmental Health. “These efforts exemplify how the County of Santa Clara looks out for the public, whether a restaurant patron or employee. The Department of Environmental Health is proud to assist OLSE in protecting workers’ rights.”

The Food Permit Enforcement Program is the first of four enforcement programs that OLSE will launch in the next five years toward increasing the quality of life for local workers and business owners. For more information, please visit sccfairworkplace.org.

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About the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE)

The County of Santa Clara created the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) in 2017 as a response to the high number of wage theft claims in the county and to enforce wage laws on a local level. Enforcement of judgments is usually carried out on the state and federal level, but with those agencies over-extended, many local governments over the past decade have taken similar steps to advance labor standards and fight wage theft at the local level, leveraging the powers reserved for municipalities. The OLSE’s mission is to ensure existing judgments for wage theft are paid out to workers who are legally owed money. The office will do this by partnering with the community and local business owners to provide education on labor standards, encourage compliance and, together, decrease retail food workplace violations to improve the quality of life for workers and business owners. For more information on OLSE, visit sccfairworkplace.org.

About the County of Santa Clara, California

The County of Santa Clara government serves a diverse, multi-cultural population of 1.9 million residents in Santa Clara County, the sixth largest county in California. With a $8.17 billion budget, more than 70 agencies/departments and nearly 22,000 employees, the County of Santa Clara plans for the needs of a dynamic community, offers quality services, and promotes a healthy, safe and prosperous community for all. The County provides essential services, including public health and environmental protection; behavioral health and medical services through the County of Santa Clara Health System including Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (Hospital and Clinics), O’Connor Hospital and Saint Louise Regional Hospital; child and adult protection services; homelessness prevention and solutions; roads, parks and libraries; emergency response to disasters; protection of minority communities and those under threat; access to a fair criminal justice system, and scores of other services, particularly for those members of our community in the greatest need. 

Visit us at SCCGOV.org

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Media ContactMarina Hinestrosa/Quan Vu, Office of Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119. 

Posted: September 23, 2019. ​

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