The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund will hold a rally against wage theft from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. this Thursday, April 7, at the 7-Eleven store at 259 Nassau Street in Princeton.
Three Princeton residents who are former employees of the store filed a lawsuit in Mercer County Superior Court March 21 against the Princeton 7-Eleven Store, its owners and managers, and the Dallas-based 7-Eleven, Inc. in connection with alleged wage and hour violations.
This will be the second rally at the store. The first rally was held on March 24.
The residents say they worked at the Princeton 7-Eleven when the store first opened in November, stocking shelves, cleaning, and doing other maintenance duties. They allegedly were paid $6 or $6.50 per hour, substantially less than the legally required $8.38 per hour New Jersey minimum wage in 2015.
According to their lawyer, Roger Martindell of Princeton, they sometimes worked up to 12 hours a day, and sometimes worked seven days a week, but were never paid the legally-required overtime rate of one and one-half times their regular hourly wage for hours worked over 40 hours each week.
Store representatives have denied violating the law and claimed that the workers had signed documents indicating they would not be making claims against the store. Martindell said his clients do not read English and, under the laws, cannot be bound by any document they may have signed in the circumstances.
Maria Juega, Executive Director of the Latin American Legal Defense Fund, claims that 7-Eleven franchisees have repeatedly been found in violation of wage regulations and of exploiting immigrant workers over the years. In 2014, nine store owners on Long Island were sentenced wage theft, in addition to other charges.
Martindell said that his clients are suing not only on their own behalf, but also as part of a collective action on behalf of all 7-Eleven workers in the central New Jersey markets.
Some people have asked what the immigration status of the workers is. Martindell said regardless of immigration status, under state and federal law, all workers are supposed to be treated equally.
“It’s well established that under state and federal law, whether or not an employer legally hires someone, they must pay them according to the law,” he told Planet Princeton. “They can’t underpay, can’t refuse to pay, can’t beat them up, can’t steal from them. Employers must follow the laws of the land.”
Martindell said the regulations are good public policy.
“If workers were not protected from abuse by employers who illegally hire the worker whether or not the job is legal for immigration purposes, the workers could be put in great danger of poverty, victimization, even slavery and physical abuse,” he said. “Our society is not built on mistreatment of workers by employers. They should be held accountable for hurting workers, whether or not the job is a legal job for immigration purposes.”
Some resident have been boycotting the store because of the alleged wage theft. Martindell said he would encourage people instead to support the workers by expressing dismay about the company’s wage practices to store managers when they visit the store.