Pou promises to work with Milgram on labor standards

Picked on by her Republican opponent as the existing weak link of a 35th District ticket riven by scandal, Assemblywoman Nellie Pou today stood in the rain at the head of 100 workers outside the Majestic Restaurant in Wayne and promised to get state Attorney General Anne Milgram to enforce New Jersey’s labor laws.

Restaurant workers have already bound together here with union backing to force several area restaurants to pay fair wages, but places like the Majestic are dragging their heels, according to Tony Tsai, a former employee. Charging a slave labor situation, Tsai says Majestic’s management doesn’t pay workers a base wage and demands kickbacks of $15 per day from the buffet restaurant staff. On weekends, they demand $20 per day.

Labor is backing Tsai, and Pou says she’ll back labor.

"We’re calling out the Department of Labor to do something about these unfair practices," said Ray Stever, president of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council (IUC), in remarks following Tsai’s megaphone challenge to his former employer.

"The abuse and exploitation of workers is unacceptable and it’s not going to be tolerated in Passaic County," added Pou. "The laws are not being properly enforced, and the Attorney General’s Office will take a strong look at what’s going on here."

Moments later, the crowd was screaming, "Boycott," "Boycott," "Boycott."

The National Labor Relations Board recently issued an order to the Majestic to rehire workers who protested the wage conditions at the restaurant. According to labor spokesperson Nancy Eng, "Majestic Buffet changed their company name twice to avoid accountability to the workers. Owner David Ho continues to cheat his workers, the government and the public."

Inside the Majestic on Saturday, manager David Yipp offered a simple analogy as an argument against the workers.

"You have a job, right?" said Yipp. "If you’re nor paid, do you work there? No. Those people make a lot of money here."

He was asked if the workers have to pay $15 on the weekdays in order to work in the restaurant. "No, that’s not accurate," said Yipp. "What we pay is what the law says. Nothing more, nothing less."

He said the workers protesting outside Saturday would be returning to work with no problems.

A Democrat, Pou is running for re-election in the aftermath of the resignation of fellow District 35 Assemblyman Alfred Steele, who earlier this month fell under a bribery charge by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

"I am incredibly saddened," said Pou. "He (Steele) is my friend, and has been my colleague for ten years. I send a prayer out to him and his family. I think this has been a difficult time for everyone, and legislators recognize the need to held to the highest ethical standards."

In an overwhelmingly Democratic district, Pou and her new running mate, Freeholder Elease Evans, face a Republican challenge from Chauncey Brown III, a member of the Paterson School Board, who dissed Pou last week by saying he looks forward to serving "with Evans." In the midst of workers at the rally, the Assemblywoman today said she wouldn’t get in a back and forth with Brown, and wants to remain focused on issues relating to jobs, education and housing.

Pou promises to work with Milgram on labor standards