Los Angeles council nominee issues apology in wage theft case

On Friday, Los Angeles City Council candidate Danielle Sandoval issued her “deepest apologies” for her handling of wage theft claims filed against her restaurant eight years ago, marking a major shift from her previous previous positions on the issue.

Sandoval, a candidate in the Nov. 8 election to replace Councilman Joe Buscaino, said in a statement that she takes “full responsibility” and works to ensure that workers are paid “as soon as possible”. The contestant said she understands the hard work people in the restaurant industry do — “whether as a waitress, host/ess, bartender, dishwasher, or business owner.”

“Unfortunately, in this situation, I failed, she said. “People have been harmed by the lack of income, and my team and I are working to remedy the harm as quickly as possible.”

The statement, posted to Sandoval’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, is a sharp break from provocative statements she made last week, in response to questions from The Times about wage theft claims filed by four former Caliente employees. Cantina, a restaurant she opened in 2014 and closed in a year.

The Times reported last week that the state labor commissioner concluded in 2015 that a company known as Cantina Investments LLC, while doing business as Caliente Cantina, failed to pay these employees for the work they had done.

Sandoval, who runs in a district that stretches from San Pedro north to Watts, suggested in an interview that she had no legal liability under the LLC, which she helped form in 2014. This company is the defendant in wage theft. procedure.

In a separate interview, the Harbor City resident said she had to fire several employees for theft of equipment and drug use – but did not say whether these were the workers who claimed that they had not been properly paid.

After The Times reported on these four cases, several Sandoval supporters rescinded their support. One of them was the Californians for men Immigrant Rights Branch Equity funds, who voted unanimously to drop their support. Another was labor law expert Victor Narro, who has a history of advocacy against wage theft.

Lawyer Tim McOsker, who is running against Sandoval, said he believes Sandoval is only apologizing now because “his supporters are running away from his campaign”. If Sandoval had been serious about labor rights, it would have paid its workers from the start, he said.

“It wouldn’t have taken two LA Times articles, state demand letters and eight years for my opponent to start taking steps to remedy the situation,” he said.

Sandoval ran a competitive campaign, although he was significantly outmatched by McOsker, a former mayoral lobbyist who spent four years as former mayor James Hahn’s chief of staff and several others in the district attorney’s office. the city.

Councilwoman-elect Eunisses Hernandez promoted Sandoval’s candidacy on social media, urging her supporters to donate to her campaign. Candidate municipal controller Kenneth Mejia went to San Pedro earlier this month knocking on doors for his campaign and many others.

Sandoval has secured endorsements from United Teachers Los Angeles and the Times Editorial Board, which operates separately from the newsroom. She came second in the June 7 primary, gaining support from two of her opponents in that race.

The Times reported last week that four former Caliente Cantina employees testified at a hearing in 2015 that they were not paid for the work they did – a violation of the government’s labor laws. ‘State commonly referred to as wage theft.

The nonprofit Wage Justice Center, working on behalf of the state labor commissioner, released letters June 30 seeking nearly $12,300 from Cantina Investments on behalf of two of the four workers who filed claims. .

Three of the four identified Sandoval as the owner of the restaurant, describing their interactions with her during a 2015 hearing, according to records obtained by The Times. One testified she ‘kept giving excuses’ for not paying, while two others sent text messages acknowledging they were owed money, as per orders issued by the commissioner state work.

When The Times contacted Sandoval about the cases, she initially said she knew nothing about the claims, saying the company “paid everyone’s checks.” She described the situation as a controversy generated by McOsker, which she called “dirty”.

On Friday, Sandoval adopted a much more conciliatory tone, saying she had begun to “take steps to repair the harm” caused to workers at the restaurant. Although she said she only learned of the workers’ demands in July, Sandoval also said it was clear “people have been affected”.

Sandoval had been in danger of losing more support. The Heart of LA Democratic Club, another of his supporters, said it was also reviewing its endorsement. A range of unions, including several that frequently face wage theft, issued a letter this week demanding the Times editorial board change course.

Narro, the labor rights expert, said he had doubts about some of the demands in Sandoval’s latest statement – particularly her timeline of when she learned of the workers’ demands. The fact that she was the registered agent for Cantina Investments, but only learned about the payroll cases this summer, is “breathtaking”, he said.

Nevertheless, Narro said he was encouraged that the workers will be paid after an eight-year delay.

“She recognizes the seriousness of the problem,” she said.

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