Assemblyman Clyde Vanel, Assemblyman Ron Kim, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato and State Senator Jose Peralta unveiled a bill called the “Restaurant Owner Whistleblower Protection Act” that they said would be a “new voice” for small business owners.
“The real jobs are in small businesses for constituents in Queens,” Kim said at Flushing Town Hall. “This bill is one way to protect and create more jobs.”
The legislation would let owners reschedule health inspections up to three times for a fee.
It would also establish an independent oversight body for health inspectors that can receive anonymous complaints, provide multilingual assistance, and publish an annual report about complaints and findings it has received.
“Health inspectors are here to build revenue,” Pheffer said. “I feel small businesses will have a voice and our concerns will be heard.”
Every restaurant in New York City receives a visit from a health inspector at least once a year without notice.
Thomas Grech, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, applauded the bill as “long past due.”
“The overall economic climate for small businesses remains bleak, and more and more have been forced to shut down in recent years,” he said in a statement. “However, I remain hopeful that the introduction of this bill represents the start of a reversal.
“We want to advocate for fair and level playing fields for restaurants,” Grech added.
As a former restaurateur, Vanel said he understands the difficulties behind running and operating a restaurant.
“They are the backbone of our economy and should be protected and respected as such,” he said.
“You have abusive inspectors,” Peralta added. “It really sends the wrong message to the owners.”
Owners at the announcement spoke about the impact it would have on their businesses.
“The health inspectors are rigorous and the fines have become very burdening to small businesses,” said Young Hwan Kim, a small business owner from Murray Hill.
Juttana Rimreartwate, the owner of Qi, a Thai restaurant with two locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, felt many inspectors are just looking to dole out penalties.
“The bill is making sure health inspectors do the right things,” Rimreartwate said. “I feel they come in just to fine us and they should be teaching employees and business owners how to do the right thing,” he added.
Mark Charoonsriswad, president of the Thai Chamber Assembly of New York, has been charged over $6,000 in fees from health inspectors in the last few years.
“Sometimes they treat us like criminals, but we have a voice now,” he said. “The health inspectors want our money.”