State Street sushi favorite Takara is facing scrutiny following accusations of exploiting immigrant workers and failing to pay proper minimum wage or overtime, with one employee owed $12,000 in back wages.

The Madison’s Workers Rights Center staged a protest at the restaurant Friday to raise awareness of the issue in the downtown community.

Director Patrick Hickey said two Takara employees approached the organization with concerns about their wages. Upon further investigation, the center determined the workers were being paid less than minimum wage, he said.

“Over the last couple of months we have been working on this issue and finally decided to go public with a protest,” Hickey said.

Hickey said Takara employees were working on salary 50 hours per week but not being paid overtime. Wisconsin law dictates those working more than 40 hours a week on salary must be paid overtime.

No further protests are being planned at the moment, as Takara has decided to cooperate, he said.

“We are hoping to draw more attention to this issue once folks in the community know what is going on and they let their feelings be known,” Hickey said.

David Mandell, Takara’s lawyer, said the restaurant intends to make amends with the two individuals involved in the case. He also said this is the first time the restaurant has had a labor dispute like this.

Mandell said the owners were paying the employees based on hourly wages and did not understand they needed to pay time and a half for overtime hours worked.

Hickey said one employee has already received a check from Takara, but the second employee, who may be entitled to even more money, has yet to receive any compensation. He said there could also be other employees at Takara still being underpaid.

One of the employees recently filed a complaint with the Department of Workforce Development, who determined Takara owes the employee $12,000 in unpaid wages.

Dane County Sup. Leland Pan, District 5, said the city has always struggled with enforcing workers’ rights in the restaurant industry because deportation is a fear for undocumented workers considering whether to dispute their wages.

“Shedding light on examples like this through workers’ rights groups is important to improve this issue,” Pan said. “The community has a strong concern for defending workers’ rights in Madison.”

[Cogan Schneier/The Badger Herald]