California Taqueria Owners Accused of Retaliation and Labor Abuses
Federal Department of Labor investigators have been unable to locate a Catholic “priest” who allegedly conducted private confession sessions with workers at a California taqueria. These workers had previously reported labor abuses committed by the owners of the Garibaldi Taqueria, leading to fears of retaliation.
Unprecedented Intimidation Tactics
The owners of Garibaldi Taqueria implemented an unprecedented tactic to silence and intimidate the workers who spoke out against labor abuses. They falsely warned the workers that their information would be reported to immigration authorities, potentially affecting their undocumented status. These threats were made during meetings with the workers, according to the accusation.
Allegations of Labor Abuses
The workers who denounced the labor abuses reported various violations, including unpaid overtime, inadequate breaks, the requirement to purchase uniforms, and tip theft. They also described an intense intimidation campaign that invoked the fear of deportation.
Legal Consequences for the Restaurant Owners
Taqueria Garibaldi, with locations in Sacramento and Roseville, ultimately settled the case and agreed to pay $140,000 in back wages to 35 employees. The judge also issued an order prohibiting any form of retaliation and mandating compliance with labor laws.
Additional Unlawful Practices
Authorities discovered other irregularities, including the illegal withdrawal of money from the tip pool to pay managers and the wrongful termination of a worker suspected of assisting the Department of Labor investigators.
Defense attorneys Alden John Parker and Christina Anton have not responded to requests for comment from Univision News.
Contacting the Owners
Attempts to contact the owners of the Sacramento restaurant, Héctor Manuel Martínez Galindo and Eduardo Hernández, were unsuccessful. However, an employee confirmed their absence and connected the call to Alejandro Rodríguez, who is also implicated in the case.
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The Peculiar ‘Confession’ at Garibaldi Taquería
The incident involving the alleged “priest” occurred in early 2022, after the Sacramento office of the Department of Labor initiated an investigation into the taqueria. Workers were required to provide information about their employment, and interviews were conducted over the phone due to the pandemic.
Raquel Alfaro, an investigator from the Labor Department’s wage and hour office, testified in federal court on July 7, 2022, that several workers recounted a strange encounter with a man claiming to be a Catholic priest at the taqueria. Some workers identified him as a “friend” of one of the owners, Eduardo Hernández, who is mentioned in the indictment.
According to Alfaro, the workers were individually summoned to the back of the business, where the “confession” took place. The ritual started with a prayer but quickly escalated into an interrogation.
“The workers found it intimidating because the ‘priest’ began asking questions about their loyalty to the employer and the business… He asked about their tenure under Eduardo and if Eduardo had ever experienced theft. The line of questioning focused on the loyalty of the employees towards Eduardo and the restaurant,” said Alfaro, who led the investigation.
“While I cannot confirm if he is a real ‘priest,’ all the workers who told me about this incident mentioned that they are practicing Catholics and have never encountered such a confession. They found it very strange.”
Intimidation Tactics Employed by the Owners
During the proceedings, defense attorney Alden Parker challenged the authenticity of the incident and denied any threats or mistreatment towards the undocumented workers. He argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the case.
“We have witnesses who directly contradict the investigator’s claim and testify that the investigator misidentified an individual who does not exist… This raises questions about the reliability of the investigator’s notes, information, and recollection of events,” Parker stated in court.
“The accused individuals, under oath, have denied making the statements in question… They did not contact any immigration authority,” he emphasized.
During the hearing, the Department of Labor requested a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge William Shubb to prevent further harassment of the employees by the taco shop owners.
Jennifer Sta.Ana, a representative for the agency, claimed in court that “the defendants are threatening employees with retaliation, including termination if they cooperate with the Department of Labor.” The defendants had also allegedly warned the workers that their information would be shared with immigration authorities for possible deportation.
“This situation requires urgent attention… In mid-June of 2022, there were recent instances of threats of dismissal and deportation, which have created fear and hindered our ability to advance in this case,” Sta.Ana stated.
Investigator Raquel Alfaro also revealed that the restaurant owners organized meetings where they coerced the workers to falsely testify that they were fairly compensated and that the establishment complied with labor laws. However, these speeches took a more aggressive turn, pressuring employees to lie as a form of “payback” for providing them with employment.
“The first employee who contacted me expressed that Alejandro Rodríguez was very upset about the complaint and the media coverage it received. He warned the employee and others not to speak to the media or the Department of Labor. He claimed that their immigration status would be compromised due to the complaint, urging them to stay silent or risk being fired,” testified Alfaro.
At another instance, Rodríguez reassured the staff that the federal investigation had concluded, but warned that the case was solely initiated to identify undocumented individuals and share their information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“One of the workers was on the verge of tears, and he is not the only one who has been distressed by this situation. The overall atmosphere at the restaurant is very fearful,” Alfaro declared.
The Department of Labor strictly prohibits employers and managers at Taqueria Garibaldi from threatening employees with immigration consequences.
“An employer or manager of Taqueria Garibaldi is prohibited from contacting immigration authorities,” states a notice received by the workers.
The agency expressed shock at these tactics and described them as “shameless.”
“This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were aimed at silencing workers, obstructing an investigation, and preventing the recovery of unpaid wages,” said Marc Pilotin, an attorney from the San Francisco DOL, in a statement.
Judge Shubb issued a court order, instructing the restaurant owners and supervisor to cease their threats towards employees, adhere to labor laws, stop misappropriating tips, refrain from tampering with work records, and promptly repay any stolen wages.