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New York tortilla factory owner sentenced for labor violations

An investigation following the tragic death of a Brooklyn, New York, tortilla factory worker in 2011 has led to charges and conviction of the factory’s owner for labor law violations. These include failure to obtain workers’ compensation insurance for his employees. The owner pleaded guilty, and has been sentenced to 90 days in jail.

The accident occurred in January 2011 when a 22-year-old employee fell into a mixing machine, and was crushed to death by the churning mechanism. New York state officials investigating the factory after the man’s death shut it down when they discovered that the company had not carried workers’ compensation insurance for nearly a year. Although the factory eventually reopened, it was cited by federal officials for safety violations.

The safety violations actually had nothing to do with the criminal charges against the 57-year-old business owner, who was arrested in 2012 by the state attorney general’s office. In June of that year, he pleaded guilty to several counts of failing to pay adequate wages, which is a misdemeanor, and failure to obtain workers’ compensation insurance, which is a felony.

In addition to serving jail time for the labor violations, the factory owner has been ordered to pay almost $450,000 in restitution. Most of that will go to the Workers’ Compensation Board to reimburse them for the money paid to the young daughter of the man who was killed. The remainder will be paid to the New York State Department of Labor for wages due to 28 employees for overtime worked between 2006 and 2011, and to cover unpaid unemployment insurance taxes.

In addressing the case, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman noted that his office takes labor law compliance very seriously, and will not hesitate to file criminal charges against companies that do not properly compensate and protect their employees. Some employers take advantage of workers who are immigrants, as the man who was killed in the tortilla factory was, because they are less likely to speak up or seek redress. However, anyone who believes that their rights as an employee have been violated should contact an attorney who specializes in employment law to ensure that their rights are protected, and that they receive the wages to which they are entitled.

Source: The New York Times, “Tortilla Factory Owner Gets Jail Time for Violating Payroll Laws” E.C. Gogolak, Jul. 08, 2013

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