Golden Dragon ordered to pay back wages

One of San Francisco’s most famous — and infamous — Chinese restaurants has been hit with an order to pay more than $1 million in back wages and penalties.

The Office of Labor Standards Enforcement and the office of City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced Friday that an investigation into pay practices at the Golden Dragon restaurant revealed back wages owed to a total of 46 employees since 2004.

Before the San Francisco Health Department ordered it closed earlier this year, the Golden Dragon was a popular tourist destination, both for its dim sum and its gruesome history. The restaurant was the site of the 1977 “Golden Dragon massacre,” in which gangsters shot and killed four people and injured 11 more in a botched assassination attempt.

After the restaurant closed on January 17, 21 employees came forward to add their names to a growing list of complainants who reported that they had either been underpaid, received bad checks or gotten no payment at all for work done at the Golden Dragon.

On Friday, after a hearing in the San Francisco Controller’s Office, the labor standards office issued an administrative order calling on the Golden Dragon to pay $1.065 million in back wages and penalties.

The restaurant’s owners, Big Hong Ng and Gim Bong Lee, will also have to pay for the cost of the investigation, an unspecified amount not to exceed $871,300.

A number listed for the Golden Dragon was disconnected Friday. Lawyer Gregory De La Pena, mentioned in the statement of findings as counsel for Ng, could not be reached for comment.

“The City argued for penalties against the Golden Dragon because the owners flagrantly violated the law,” labor standards division manager Donna Levitt said in a statement. “This order makes it clear that a business cannot escape their responsibility to pay their workers by closing.”

Last year, workers at the Golden Dragon picketed the restaurant in order to collect their back wages. Levitt indicated that a subsequent investigation found that those back wages were below The City’s minimum wage.

“I am delighted that The City is enforcing its minimum wage laws and making sure that workers are not treated unfairly by unscrupulous employers. This is proof that the city of San Francisco means business and is going to go after employers who exploit their workers,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin, in whose district the Golden Dragon operated, said Friday.

This is the first case that has gone to a hearing and resulted in an order under The City’s minimum wage ordinance. That law, passed by voters in November 2003, set The City’s minimum wage at $8.50 per hour on Feb. 23, 2004, then increased it to $8.62 per hour on Jan 1, 2005 and then $8.62 on Jan 1, 2006.

City Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Alexis Truchan said the case will pave the way for similar orders in the future.

amartin@examiner.com

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