Labor board issues complaint against Matsu Sushi
WESTPORT — On Monday, in the midst of a torrential downpour, nine people protested labor conditions at Matsu Sushi, a restaurant in downtown Westport.
The April 15 protest came on the heels of a March 29 decision from the National Labor Relations Board to issue Matsu an official complaint for illegally firing two workers in December, after they refused to work a 36-hour shift.
“We are happy the labor board decided to issue a complaint against Matsu Sushi. The bosses (Ziqiao Cao and Kim Ming Cheng) know what they did was wrong, but they don’t want to hire us back,” said Jianming Jiang, one of the fired workers.
Jiang and Liguo Ding — the second worker fired — said Matsu’s owners mandated the 36-hour shifts to finish large lunch orders from Bridgewater Associates, a Westport-based investment management firm. “We want Bridgewater Associates to stop supporting this sweatshop and also take responsibility for all the years it benefitted from our hard work,” Jiang said.
Following their termination in December, Ding and Jiang, residents of Queens, N.Y., contacted the Flushing Workers Center, which helped Ding and Jiang file charges against Matsu.
“Thirty-six hours of continuous work is not only illegal, it is also inhumane. No one should have to work like this in the 21st century,” said Sarah Ahn, an organizer with the Flushing Workers Center.
Ahn went to Westport on April 16, along with Ding, Jiang and several other protestors from the Workers Center to call for residents to boycott Matsu until the restaurant reinstates Ding and Jiang’s employment. Ding and Jiang said they miss the community they got to know over 10-plus years working at Matsu, and hope they can return to work at the restaurant.
“The 36-hour shifts only happen every once in a while,” Matsu’s manager, Maggie Lia, said. “We need someone to do the order and told them we’re going to hire someone else to do the order if they can’t and they told everyone we fired them.”
Both of Matsu’s owners declined to comment on the case.
In addition to the charges brought before the National Labor Relations Board, Ding and Jiang, along with two of their former Matsu co-workers, filed a lawsuit against the restaurant for failure to pay minimum and overtime wages. The outcome of the lawsuit is unknown.
Now that the labor board has issued a complaint against Matsu, the board will bring the restaurant to trial in July to determine whether it will be forced to reinstate Ding and Jiang’s employment, said James Bhandary-Alexander, an attorney with New Haven Legal Assistance who is helping Ding and Jiang with the case.
“Eighty years ago, the National Labor Relations Act established the rule that workers may not be fired in retaliation for collectively demanding better terms and conditions in the workplace. Here, federal investigators found that Matsu Restaurant broke this rule when it fired our clients on account of their protest against dangerous 36-hour shifts,” Bhandary-Alexander said.
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