Matsu Sushi owners issue statement amid legal dispute

WESTPORT — Following the latest protest at Matsu Sushi, its owners have issued a statement addressing the ongoing legal dispute with former workers.

“Recent reports of worker exploitation are simply wrong and solely meant to damage the reputation of the Matsu Sushi restaurant in Westport, hurt business there and scare the owners into paying them thousands of dollars rather than resolve the issues on the merits in a court of law, which is what the owners have sought,” owners Ziqiao Cao and Kim Ming Cheng said in a statement Monday.

In December 2017, Liguo Ding and Jianming Jiang were both fired for allegedly refusing to complete a 36-hour shift to finish a large lunch order from Bridgewater Associates.

Earlier this month, the former Matsu chefs were joined by state Sen. Will Haskell, supporters, and members of the Flushing Workers Center to protest the business.

The National Labor Relations Board Judge Kenneth W. Chu ruled in October that the restaurant had illegally fired workers and ordered them immediately reinstated. Ding and Jiang also won an appeal to the decision in June. However, the workers have yet to get their jobs back.

The owners, however, are telling a different story and may again appeal the decision.

“Matsu corporation looks forward to presenting its side in this dispute at trial, along with documentation, and we maintain that we’re open to a fair resolution to the dispute with our long-time partners,” the owners said. “In the meantime, we will continue to provide the excellent service and sushi that our customers have come to expect at Matsu Sushi in Westport for nearly 20 years.”

Phil Oliva, a spokesperson for Matsu Corporation, said the workers were offered their jobs back but the two parties couldn’t reach an agreement.

“The offer was there and they kept changing their terms and conditions,” he said.

Oliva said the owners are open to some form of settlement, but are prepared to challenge the case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut this fall. He added the ongoing case is a business dispute between partners, not a labor dispute. According to Oliva the former workers had 5 percent shares in the company.

“They were given monthly pay-outs,” he said. “There’s records and dividend receipts on all of this.”

Oliva said the workers were also invested in a Matsu Sushi in Darien, and may be unhappy with not seeing a return on their investment. The location closed in September 2017 after being open for two years.

“Again this is a business dispute among equity partners,” Oliva said. “For years there was never complaints until the Darien location closed.”

He added the large order wasn’t unusual for the workers to complete.

“I think the frustrating thing is when people think about going to get sushi they hear they’re exploiting workers,” Oliva said. “That’s not the case. That was never an issue until the second location closed down.”

James Bhandary-Alexander, who represents the workers, said despite conversations, his clients were never formally offered their jobs back.

“They said they were going to offer them back and then they never gave any details or a starting date,” he said. “The workers will go back to work immediately if they’re offered the opportunity to do so.”

Bhandary-Alexander said even if the workers did have shares in the company, it wouldn’t shield Matsu’s owners from the labor board case. He added the workers remain hopeful they can return to working at the restaurant.

“Nobody disputes this is a relatively small company with people who work together for a long time and who feel a great attachment to this enterprise,” he said. “Which is why if the restaurant is serious about hiring them back, they should call me as soon as possible.”