In addition to the un-entitled staff (silver polishers and managers, for example) other places require staff to pay for their own laundry expense. That's a violation of NY law. The Batali houses, it's alleged, subtract 4.5% from the wine sales from the tip pool before making a tip allocation. This may be to pay a part of the sommelier commission. Another complaint is the 20% assessed against groups isn't passed on to the staff in its entirety.
Two law firms have brought the bulk of litigation. One partner says that each suit brings inquiries from people in other places, and they prefer to have several participants before pursuing discussions with the house
Mr. Kirschenbaum also dismissed criticisms. "We don't chase people, people chase us," he said. "They're being wronged, they're being taken advantage of by big corporations with a lot of power."
Mr. Kirschenbaum said he expects the number of plaintiffs in the Morimoto case to grow, as it did in the suit against Mr. Batali. Initially, that suit was filed last month on behalf of two employees at Babbo; it has now grown to include at least 20 employees at nearly half a dozen restaurants.
The suit alleges that the restaurant was improperly taking 4.5% of its wine sales every night and subtracting it from the tip pool.
Representatives for Messrs. Batali and Bastianich have declined to comment.
Some say the suits underscore longstanding labor violations in the industry.
"I think there are a lot of practices in the restaurant industry that were going on for a long time that were ripe for litigation," said Cynthia Estlund, a professor at New York University School of Law.
Lorelei Salas, director of strategic enforcement for the New York State Department of Labor's city office, said the office has seen a rise in the number of wage complaints. "The restaurant industry is one where we have a lot of issues," she said.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York is careful when launching a campaign against a restaurant group in ensuring that there is a pattern, said Rekha Eanni-Rodriguez, co-director of the advocacy group. "We always make sure that it's a group of workers, then we know it's not just one or two disgruntled workers," she said.
Furthermore, ROC works to change companywide policies in its campaign and always negotiates directly with the company before filing a suit, she said. ROC is currently in negotiations with Batali-Bastianich Hospitality Group.
"A lot of these new lawyers who are doing these lawsuits are only seeking relief for their workers, but it may not always have an impact on the rest of the workers in that workplace and it often doesn't make a statement to the industry as a whole," she said.