SAN FRANCISCO – More than 230 people who worked at five Burger King restaurants in San Francisco are waiting for millions of dollars owed to them after more than a year and a half.
The California Labor Commissioner’s Office issued a $1.9 million citation in June 2020, during the middle of the pandemic, for wages stolen and other labor law violations committed by Burger King over a three year period. Additionally, the restaurant owner settled with the City of San Francisco for more than $800,000, most of which has not yet been distributed to workers.
Years after the wage theft was first documented, the workers are demanding payment and making their fight to win back the wages owed to them public.
“I worked at the Burger King on Fillmore for seven years where you couldn’t take breaks and lunches, you had to clock out and continue working without pay to get the job done,” said Adriana Rendon, former San Francisco Burger King employee. “I worked under conditions where one could not take sick leave from work without retaliation. I knew that this was unjust and I came together with my coworkers to organize ourselves and raise our voices to demand what they owed us and to stop these abuses.”
Workers’ concerted effort comes as they learned that franchise owner, Golden Gate Restaurant Group, which owned nearly a dozen outposts of the fast food chain in the Bay Area, has sold or closed all of its San Francisco Burger King restaurants, in a possible attempt to evade payment to workers.
“Many corporations, especially fast food franchises, disregard labor laws and worker protections in the name of increasing profit,” said Kim Ouilette, an attorney at Legal Aid at Work. “Then, when workers are brave enough to speak up and enforce their rights, these corporations try to shift assets or even go out of business entirely to avoid liability, and then open up under a new name. It’s unclear exactly what Golden Gate Restaurant Group’s plans are, but the reality is that the State of California has issued a $1.9 million citation against them for labor violations and they will be held to account.”
Trabajadores Unidos Workers United and Legal Aid at Work have worked directly with the Burger King workers to document the labor violations at the restaurant. TUWU has been supporting a core group of current and former Burger King workers to demand accountability for the labor violations. The workers have organized actions outside of Burger King locations, held press events, and demanded that Burger King treat them with respect.
The Bureau of Field Enforcement of the California Labor Commissioner’s Office issued the $1.9 million citation to Golden Gate Restaurant Group, Inc. The franchise is owned by Monu Singh, who also serves as the President of MSB Property Management, a major property management company in the Bay Area. The California Labor Commissioner found that the Golden Gate Restaurant Group and several individuals who managed the business had failed to pay workers the minimum wage, provide overtime pay, and allow workers adequate meal and rest periods, among other violations.
Separately, San Francisco officials also cited the business for failure to make required health care payments on behalf of 235 employees and failing to give employees two weeks advance notice of their work schedules, in violation of San Francisco ordinances. For these violations, Golden Gate Restaurant Group entered into a settlement agreement with the City in September 2020 for $803,534.57, but as of now, only a small fraction of total amount has been paid.
While much attention is being paid to so-called “smash and grab” and merchandise theft, the theft of wages is far more common. A study by the Economic Policy Institute showed that wage theft in the ten most populous states, including California, amounts to $8 billion annually and impacts 2.4 million people just in minimum wage violations. EPI found that this form of wage theft affects 17 percent of workers who are paid low wages.
Over the past four years, with support from community organizations and the state labor agency, immigrant workers in the Bay Area have won back millions in stolen wages and mobilized thousands of workers and community members for good jobs and fair pay at restaurants like Z & Y Restaurant, Kome Japanese Seafood Buffet in Daly City, Rangoon Ruby, Mango Garden, and La Taqueria.
Trabajadores Unidos Workers United, formed in 2002, is a multi-racial and bilingual membership organization dedicated to improving the quality of jobs for immigrant workers in the low-wage service sector through organizing.
Legal Aid at Work is a San Francisco-based non-profit legal services organization dedicated to strengthening and enforcing workers’ rights.