California Subway Operator Allegedly Violated Child Labor Laws | Franchise News

A multi-unit Subway franchisee is accused of directing young employees to use dangerous equipment and work illegal hours.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction that forbids John Michael Meza, a 14-unit Subway operator, from violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. He operates Subway stores in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division made the citations against the franchisee. He’s accused of violating child labor, recordkeeping, interference and retaliation provisions of the FLSA.

The injunction also lists Meza’s wife, Jessica, Mike Ayesh, MZS Enterprises LLC and Crave Brands LLC as defendants.

The preliminary injunction is meant to “prevent further exploitation and intimidation of young, vulnerable workers,” said San Francisco Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin in a statement.

The Wage and Hour Division accused the operators of directing employees as young as 14 and 15 years old to use dangerous equipment, which at times resulted in injuries such as burns. The division also cited Meza for writing bad checks to employees and keeping tips.

Under the FLSA, employees younger than 16 cannot perform work that requires equipment like a high-speed oven, power-driven meat slicers or ladders. Employees younger than 18 cannot perform such tasks if an adult isn’t present. Employees under 16 also have restrictions related to working hours. They cannot work more than 18 hours during a school week, or longer than three hours on a school day.

Three teenaged girls alleged Meza wasn’t paying them the full amount they were owed and they never received electronic tips, according to local media. A GoFundMe page raised enough money to compensate the girls for the wages they didn’t receive. Local newspaper The Press Democrat profiled the girls in March, resulting in more child employees of Meza’s coming forward.

Meza is forbidden from scheduling employees to work under such conditions. The injunction also prevents from retaliating against or intimidating any employees who try to exercise their rights under the FLSA, “including but not limited to testifying or otherwise reporting information to the” secretary of labor.

“Prohibited retaliatory actions include but are not limited to termination, reduction of hours, or threats to report employees to law enforcement agencies including immigration authorities,” according to the injunction.

The Wage and Hour Division also alleged Meza interfered with its investigation by telling employees not to cooperate and threatening kids.

Meza is required to pay $265,294.17 in unpaid wages and reimburse employees for bad check fees. The operator is also required to provide the labor secretary with a record of all bounced checks from Aug. 1, 2019, to May 19.

Meza’s lawyer, Arkady Itkin, did not provide additional comment. Subway did not immediately respond to request for comment.

In 2011, Meza was sentenced to 120 days in jail for felony income tax evasion and concealing property with intent to evade tax collection, according to The Mercury News, a Bay Area news organization. He also had to pay $163,000. His wife, Jennifer, was sentenced for a misdemeanor count of income tax evasion, in which she served two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

The couple didn’t file income tax returns from 2004 to 2007, and in 2006 they opened a bank account using a false social security number so they could hide their earnings, according to Mercury News.

In April 2020 and February 2021, Crave Brands LLC received two Paycheck Protection Program loans, totaling $32,666, according to ProPublica data. A $13,612 loan was forgiven in October 2021. MZS Enterprises LLC received a $58,200 PPP loan in February 2021.

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