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South Bay Leaders Create New Team to Protect Employees From Wage Theft

"We're making this announcement now to allow businesses the opportunities to resolve their judgements before enforcement begins in October," the team's manager said

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South Bay leaders are stepping up enforcement of wage theft laws at restaurants to protect employees.

The efforts, in short, consist of paying employees or getting shut down.

Santa Clara County's newly formed Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement is the first team of its kind in California, and it recently assisted a Milpitas man who works as a cook.

Jeff Rightnar has worked in a number of restaurants as a cook, but had issues with his most recent employer as he kept delaying is paycheck.

"I also would keep track of my hours and it seemed like the fluctuation was different," Rightnar said.

The delay caused him to be two month behind on his rent and said "it's just kind of this vicious circle because he didn't pay me for three weeks. Now several months down the road, it's still affecting me."

That's when he called the newly formed labor standards and enforcement team.

"When wage theft occurs, this impacts the worker's ability to pay rent and can cause food insecurity for the family and ultimately lead to worker stress and anxiety," explained the manager of the team, Jessie Yu.

Over the past decade, the state labor commission has recorded $23 million in lost wages for Santa Clara County workers.

The new team has only operated for a few months, but they've already collected $50,000 in wages for employees.

On Tuesday they announced they're expanding their scope from a few cities to include all of San Jose, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Milpitas.

"We're now revisiting our plans to expand our program to all 15 cities in the county," Yu said. "We're making this announcement now to allow businesses the opportunities to resolve their judgements before enforcement begins in October."

The county made the announcement in front of Parktown Pizza in Milpitas and said they are an example of a business who has done a great job of caring for workers.

However, the team will be reviewing complaints against other businesses.

If a business such as a restaurant is behind on employee restaurants, it could have their food permit suspended.

"When they're closed temporarily, then a sign like this will be posted at their businesses," explained Rochelle Gaddi, Director of the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health pointing at the sign mentioned.

Rightnar told NBC Bay Area his experience is common, but he's glad there's help now.

"So I feel like I can stay up for myself and have the right way of doing so."

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