Supporters abandon L.A. City Council candidate Danielle Sandoval after wage theft report
Three political groups and a longtime L.A. labor rights expert have rescinded their endorsements of City Council candidate Danielle Sandoval, following reports by The Times on outstanding wage theft claims targeting her restaurant.
Over the last three days, California Women’s List, the political action committee Fund Her and the Californians for Human Immigrant Rights Leadership Action Fund have withdrawn their support of Sandoval, who is running to replace Councilman Joe Buscaino in the Nov. 8 election.
Victor Narro, who teaches labor studies at UCLA, was the first to pull his endorsement, saying he advised the candidate nearly two months ago to resolve outstanding wage theft claims against Caliente Cantina, a restaurant Sandoval opened in 2014 and later closed.
Narro said he urged Sandoval to contact the Wage Justice Center, which has been trying to collect money owed to the restaurant’s former employees. The UCLA instructor pulled his endorsement last week, shortly after The Times reported that four of the restaurant’s wage theft cases are still outstanding — seven years after the state labor commissioner ruled in the workers’ favor.
Narro called The Times’ coverage “the tipping point.”
“I cannot endorse a candidate that engages in wage theft and then doesn’t do anything to address it,” he said in an interview. “She hasn’t stepped up to take responsibility.”
Angelica Salas, president of the CHIRLA Action Fund, said Thursday that her board unanimously withdrew its endorsement after reviewing filings in the Caliente Cantina cases. Wage theft, she said, is “one of the greatest injustices and abuses” faced by immigrants.
“In light of the reports and the evidence that has come forth, and staying true to our mission and core values, CHIRLA Action Fund cannot continue to support and endorse candidate Danielle Sandoval,” Salas said in a statement.
Ex-employees have pending wage-theft cases against restaurant that was opened by Danielle Sandoval.
The Heart of LA Democratic Club, another Sandoval endorser, said in a statement that the group is “reviewing these allegations and determining how to proceed.”
Sandoval, running to represent a district stretching from San Pedro north to Watts, has responded to the controversy by saying that employee compensation at her restaurant was managed by a payroll company and shift managers. “With every business, operations could always work more smoothly, precise and organized,” she said in a statement this week.
Sandoval spokesman Rick Thomas also pushed back on Narro’s description of events, saying a lawyer for Sandoval took “immediate action” — learning of the workers’ claims in late July and contacting the Wage Justice Center by early August.
Sandoval’s attorney is working on a “swift resolution,” Thomas said.
“Victor Narro is not accurate in his assumption Sandoval did not take action or responsibility,” he said, “and it is irresponsible on his part to make such a statement.”
The labor commissioner concluded in 2015 that Cantina Investments, while doing business as Caliente Cantina, failed to pay four of its employees for work they had performed — a violation of state labor law commonly referred to as wage theft. State agencies later placed $37,000 in liens on Cantina Investments, a company that Sandoval helped form in 2014, according to state and county business records.
Paola Laverde, a spokeswoman for the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees the labor commissioner’s office, provided a different timetable to The Times, saying an attorney for Sandoval contacted the Wage Justice Center on Sept. 15, then stopped responding to inquiries soon afterward.
The Times first contacted Sandoval about the wage cases on Sept. 15.
“The attorney for Ms. Sandoval contacted the Wage Justice Center again this morning,” Laverde said Wednesday. “There has still not been any payment.”
Narro, who endorsed Sandoval in July, said he emailed Sandoval and her campaign staff on Aug. 5 about the wage cases, after learning about them from the head of the Wage Justice Center, where he sits on the board. “I expressed my deep concern, and asked her to address it immediately,” he said.
Narro said he became disillusioned a week later, after being told by a staffer at the Wage Justice Center that Sandoval had not made contact. The group, which is retained by the state’s labor commissioner, had already sent two letters in June to Cantina Investments LLC, which had assigned Sandoval as its agent to receive legal communications. The letters said two of the restaurant’s former employees are owed a combined $12,271.
Sandoval, in her statement, said the controversy shows that the status quo “will say or do anything” to hold on to power.
“The timing of the allegations against Cantina Investments LLC are suspect and meant to distract you from what is really going on here,” she said. “The status quo is lashing out ... because they know residents in Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Watts and San Pedro are tired of being ignored by City Hall.”
The Times reported last week that three of the four workers at Caliente Cantina — who earned between $10 and $12 per hour — identified Sandoval as the restaurant’s owner, testifying in 2015 about their interactions with her. One testified that Sandoval “kept giving excuses” after he asked to be paid for nearly three weeks’ work.
Sandoval has given different descriptions of her role at Caliente Cantina. In one interview, she said she was the restaurant’s owner. During another, she said she was a managing partner. In this week’s statement, she described herself as an “affiliate” of Cantina Investments.
Attorney Tim McOsker, Sandoval’s opponent in the race, criticized Sandoval for loaning her campaign $37,000 at a time when her restaurant’s workers are still seeking payment.
“[Sandoval] chose not to pay workers, but instead put tens of thousands of dollars into her own campaign,” he said in a text message.
Sandoval has been waging a competitive campaign, placing second in the June 7 primary and securing endorsements from United Teachers Los Angeles and the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, which operates separately from the newsroom.
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Councilwoman-elect Eunisses Hernandez, an emerging voice in L.A.’s progressive political scene, has repeatedly promoted Sandoval on social media, urging her supporters to donate to her campaign. Earlier this week, Sandoval touted endorsements from two of her opponents in the June 7 primary — businessman Anthony Santich and Bryant Odega, an environmental justice activist.
Odega acknowledged that both candidates “have their flaws.” But he said he is standing by Sandoval — and would never support McOsker, a former City Hall lobbyist who represented the Los Angeles Police Department officers union.
“I just can’t trust someone with that kind of work history,” he said.
Narro said he originally endorsed Sandoval because he considered her to be a “great progressive” — and because the council needs more women of color. He voiced frustration that the four workers in the Caliente Cantina case have waited seven years for payment.
If Sandoval knew about the wage claims in July, she should have addressed the situation immediately, he said.
“Wage theft is pervasive in L.A.,” Narro said. “And it matters how you handle a situation that involves wage theft.”
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