Tribune Features Restaurant Guilty of Wage Theft as Cause of Higher Prices

Letter to Editor, July 12, 2019

The Chicago Tribune carried an article, supported by an editorial, maintaining that raising the minimum wage would have a detrimental effect on the operation of restaurants, and result in higher menu prices.

This assertion was in part based upon an interview of the owner of a popular fast food operation in Bridgeport on the southside, which I live near and frequently pass. It has expanded over the years from strictly carry-out to now have an area for seating and in-house dining. A formal dining area was recently opened on the second floor.

Given the volume of customer traffic at all times day and night the restaurant would appear to be quite successful. The menu has been expanded to offer a greater number of items. The eatery has remained popular over the years although the prices have noticeably increased.  

The restaurant is featured as evidence of the “discomfort” experienced by business owners faced with an increase in the minimum wage.

What the Tribune failed to do what check its sources. Had it done so, they would have learned that this particular restaurant was found guilty not long ago by investigators of the U.S. Department of Labor for engaging in wage theft, on a significant scale. The restaurant per a consent degree had to pay 58 employees $339,000 in back pay and damages.

The DOL found that the restaurant and owner paid non-tipped trainees as little as $3.75 an hour, well below the state and federal minimum wage. In addition, they failed to pay time-and-a-half to those who worked more than 40 hours a week.

This restaurant was doing well and expanded operations, but did not reward the employees who had made this possible. In fact, the business operated and profited by failing to pay anything even remotely close to minimum wage. On top of this employees were as well working overtime at substandard wages to keep the business going.

I would imagine that this restaurant is not the only one failing to comply with fair labor standards regarding wage and hour regulations. If the Tribune was a responsible publication, and presented balanced stories, their reporter should have investigated and interviewed employees in this business, and across the city in similar such operations.  She did not do so.  Instead, the Tribune takes the position that the request for a living wage is harmful to consumers and the economy.

The content of any editorial should be that the incident of wage theft across the city is alarming, and compliance with labor laws is the responsibility of all employers. These regulations are avoided for one purpose only, the profit of the owner, and the Tribune should not take a position that doing so is in any way justified, or benefits the customers of restaurants.

Charles Paidock
Chicago, IL
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