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San Francisco Yank Sing Restaurant Workers Win Record Settlement

The first checks involving tens of thousands of dollars in payments should arrive this week for nearly 300 dim sum workers who organized and won a record $4 million settlement against the Yank Sing restaurant in San Francisco—a tony establishment that won a James Beard Award in 2009 and is routinely in the Michelin Guide.

The restaurant is paying out one of the largest settlements of its kind as advocates fight to improve conditions of low-wage Asian American workers in Asian restaurants around the country.

“This proves low wage workers in our community want respect and dignity and they’re willing to organize, if they’re given the tools and support,” said Shaw San Liu, an organizer with the Chinese Progressive Association, to NBC News. CPA, working with the Asian Law Caucus and state and local labor regulators, uncovered the practices at Yank Sing, and then enabled the workers to form what amounted to a “do-it-yourself” collective bargaining action, said Liu.

Without a union, the workers organized on their own, including staged walk-outs at business-friendly times. It was enough for management to get the message and come to the table, said Liu.

The family owned business said it was more interested in making things right.

"The family was shocked that they weren't in compliance and was upset," said Jonathan Glick, Yank Sing's director of operations in media reports. "They wanted to do what they could to fix things as quickly as possible."

The workers now will get their back pay checks, plus health care and other benefits, and see their base pay raised to $11.25 an hour. The Chinese Progressive Association hopes to see a ripple effect in other Asian restaurants.

"They really transformed their workplace from one where they were experiencing wage theft and feeling a lack of respect," said Liu. "They turned an abusive restaurant environment to a model workplace.”

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