|Former Sweet Home employees and clients demand back wages.|
|The Sweet Home showroom is on Little River Turnpike and Hummer Road.|
“Koo needs to understand that we are not letting him get away with wage theft anymore,” Rodriguez said.
“He promised and promised to pay you,” said Jerry Harris, who said Koo owes him $1,500 for work he did remodeling bathrooms. “He’s just a swindler. He swindled a lot of people.”
Hector Antonio Andrade, a handyman, said Koo owes him $4,600, and some of the paychecks he did receive bounced.
The loss has affected him emotionally and mentally, as well as financially, Andrade said. His mother was desperately ill in El Salvador during that period. He couldn’t afford to send her money for medicine, and she passed away. He couldn’t afford to pay his rent so he lost his apartment. And because he couldn’t afford to get his truck fixed, it failed inspection, and now he can’t afford to get it out of the impoundment lot.
Workers aren’t the only ones demonstrating with CCLJ against Koo. Former business client Christine Tran is suing Koo for over $70,000 for construction fraud. Tran hired Koo to design and build a restaurant in Woodbridge in August 2015, but claims he pocketed her money after demanding advance payments for building permits, materials, and labor.
“I want to make sure that no one, worker or client, is ever again taken advantage of by Sweet Home Improvement,” said Tran. “That’s why I’m out here raising awareness.”
The Sweet Home office was closed when the protesters marched in front of the building, waved signs at passing motorists, and put flyers on the windshields of parked cars.
Reached by phone, Koo blamed the workers, claiming they put in fewer hours than promised, did shoddy work, and took too long to finish jobs. “I have to protect my company,” he said. “They took advantage of my company.”
The Centreville Commission for Labor Justice launched the public protest after failing to come to terms with Koo and facing frustration with the Fairfax County civil court system. Koo and Sweet Home Improvement have been sued dozens of times since 2012.
“We tried negotiating with him, and when that didn’t work, we went to the courts, but that has proved ineffective as well,” said Marley Pulido, founder of the CCLJ, a project of the Centreville Immigration Forum.
Several former employers had won judgments against Sweet Home in small claims court, but those judgments aren’t enforceable.
A current case is pending in federal court on behalf of six former employees. The suit charges Sweet Home with violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay minimum wages and overtime pay. Attorney Nicholas Cooper Marritz, of the Legal Aid Justice Center, said the company owes the plaintiffs a total of $25,000 in back wages.