Local politicians and activists held a press conference Thursday to slam trendy Soho clothier Yellow Rat Bastard and eight affiliated stores for underpaying workers and for having rats. Yes, that’s right, rats.
Bad enough that employees report being forced to work long hours for substandard pay ($5.25 an hour, instead of the legal minimum wage of $6.75 per hour), with no overtime. They complain they were also forced to endure frequent verbal and physical abuse from store managers along with a serious rat infestation at the Yellow Rat Bastard at 480 Broadway and at Sloppy Joe Dirty Jane, across the street at 483 Broadway.*
Here’s a statement from former employee Josh Shaffer, a 25-year-old senior at Nyack College, who says he slaved up to 11 hours a day at the YRB in Soho for more than four years:
“I’ve seen live rats walk in front of customers, dead rats decomposing in the toilet bowl in the employee’s bathroom, and live ones drinking from it. I often had to shake the rat feces off the T-shirts before folding them. The workers have complained, yet the manager has never really dealt with this rat infestation.”
Grosser still, Shaffer and other workers at the YRB in Soho complain of a leaking sewage pipe that dripped on them, customers, and the store’s $20 to $60 retro t-shirts.
“It used to pour when people flushed the toilet,” Shaffer told the Voice. “It ruined a bunch of merchandise. Now it’s not as bad, but it still leaks. Sometimes they throw out the clothes, sometimes they don’t just to see what sells.”
Though the rat situation was stanky, Shaffer says he quit because even with his long hours, without overtime pay, he wasn’t earning enough to stay in school.
Now he and hundreds of other current and former employees of YRB/Soho and its affiliated stores (Antique Orange, Boys and Chicks, FAT Jeans, Rubber Sole, Sloppy Joe Dirty Jane, Tempo, Yellow Rat Bastard/Queens, and Yellow Rat Bastard/Cedarhurst, Long Island) are seeking unpaid wages from the last six years that could total as much as $1.5 million.
YRB owner Henry Ishay could not be reached for comment. (An accountant at his Brooklyn office told us to call back Friday.) But his stores are now being investigated by the State Attorney General’s office for wage and other labor-law violations.
The investigation is the result of a campaign brought by the newly formed Retail Action Project, which began surveying Soho workers for wage abuses last winter. “Yellow Rat Bastard is probably the worst store we’ve identified in Soho, but there are others that pay less than minimum wage,” reports organizer Carrie Gleason. “Once one employer starts paying less, other employers think they can get away with it too.”
*Correction: The address of this store has been corrected.