Many Korean Businesses Abuse Interns Not Paying Overtime and Vacations

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As the state government is making a collective effort to improve the working environment in California, it has been revealed that many Korean businesses are still reluctant to adapt to the changing policies. Some businesses in the community are even allegedly abusing the rights as employers against interns (J1 visa holders).

One female intern at a Downtown L.A.-based apparel business, a 23-year-old only identified by her initial A, is still paid $10 per hour even though the City of L.A. began to stipulate since July that the state’s minimum wage has been increased to $10.50.

“I always think about the extra 50 cents ever since the rise in minimum wage,” said A, who apparently works eight hours a day. “In a month, this could be $80.”

Another intern in the same business, a 30-year-old who is identified by his initial B, is preparing to take collective action with his fellow interns against the employer.

“Ever since arriving from Korea, I’ve been working a lot of overtime for three months,” said B. “There are 10 interns here who aren’t getting paid for their overtime work. We’ve talked about reporting this situation.”

In the case of an undocumented employee at a Korean-run warehouse, a 27-year-old female identified by her initial C, there is no vacation as she works year-round. “I’ve heard that the labor law requires employers to provide at least three days off during the year, but I can’t bring this up even though I really need a break,” said C.

The similarities between A, B and C is that all three of them have their immigration status on the line. Their employers are seemingly abusing their rights by forcing them to abide by unlawful policies if they are to keep their jobs.

“People have told me to report my situation to the labor department,” said B. “But if I were to do that, I’d either have to go back to Korea or look for another job.”

Both California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency and Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance emphasize that all employees must be treated equally regardless of their immigration status. Businesses in violation of the policy is subject to sanctions.

“Unpaid overtime wages is obviously a violation of labor laws,” said KIWA organizer Doo-hyung Kang. “Hours beyond eight hours per day warrant a higher wage by law.”

Kang added, “Employing interns does not give businesses freedom to use them beyond regular work hours without paying them properly.”

In response to the abuse labor, the city government is planning to strengthen its enforcement of the policies. Additionally, the minimum duration of working holidays will also be increased to six days for businesses with 25 employees or less.

By Hyoung Jae Kim