Archive for Portland

Workers Stand Up Against Wage Theft in Portland

Posted in News Archive with tags , , , , , , on December 12, 2009 by pdxrwa

by William Pilgrim

Friday December 11th, 2009- NEWLY OPENED RESTAURANT TOAST AND PHO DENIES FORMER WORKERS PAST WAGES.

Restaurant owners Tan Vo and Titi Nguyen of the newly opened Toast and Pho, 101 NW 21st Ave, have been accused of denying an estimated $8,000 in back wages to former employees Teresa Nguyen (no relation), Pedro Rendon, and former General Manager Frank Clow.  Toast and Pho opened November 1st, 2009.

Tan Vo and Titi Nguyen were informed that the workers would be coming today, Friday December 11th, to collect their back wages.  The workers were joined by more than 15 activists who confronted the owners at 11:30 am.  Members of the Portland Restaurant Workers Association (PRWA) Workers Support Committee  and  activists from the worker’s rights community were present for support and solidarity.

The Owners of Toast and Pho were informed in advance that the workers would be attempting to collect their wages Friday, and the workers arrived with formal letters outlining their requests, and Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) Wage Claim forms. Because the ownership failed to keep formal or accurate records of the hours employees worked before the restaurant’s opening, and during its operation, the wages owed are based on employee estimates. Teresa Nguyen is owed over $93.40 in wages and withheld tips, Rendon is owed over $1,000 in wages and overtime for hours worked before the restaurant opened, and Clow is owed $7,000 in salary.

The former employees and the PRWA were asked to leave almost immediately after arriving at Toast and Pho.  The ownership became flustered and hostile, and the police were called.   The PRWA remained in the restaurant until former employee David Sokolowski,acting as a liaison to the police, was informed that only Teresa Nguyen, Rendon, and Clow would be allowed to stay.

The workers were denied their unpaid wages.  As a result, BOLI Wage Claim forms were filed Friday afternoon, and the workers may seek legal recourse.

Toast and Pho have a history of questionable hiring/firing practices, as well as failing to pay their workers.  On November 8th, David Sokolowski and the PRWA participated in another solidarity action in which Sokolowski successfully obtained a week-and-a-half’s worth of back wages.

The PRWA is preparing to return to Toast and Pho for demonstrations on Saturday, December 12th, and will conduct a phone blast from the community to keep the pressure on.

Restaurant Uses Pay-to-Apply Scheme to Weed Out the “Riff-Raff”

Posted in News Archive with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2009 by pdxrwa

August 24, 2009
by William Pilgrim

Urban Restaurants, Inc., which operates Urban Fondue, Bartini, and Pearl Catering in Northwest Portland, recently attempted to charge a $4.50 fee to applicants responding to their Craigslist.com post announcing jobs at upcoming ventures in Sherwood, Portland, and Vancouver, WA. The posting’s full text can be read here at ShamelessRestaurants.com.

Due to pressure from workers and complaints to Craigslist, the original post was pulled down in a matter of hours.

In response to the ad on PortlandFoodandDrink.com, several sympathetic restaurateurs voiced concerns  about the labor-intensive process of sifting through resumes.  One Craigslist posting, for a single position, could yield a hundred resumes, which a potential employer then has to review. A posting as broad as Urban Restaurants’ — “hiring for ALL restaurant, plus catering positions” — could produce hundreds of responses.

The ad, which has been verified as originating from Urban Restaurants, Inc.’s executive chef Kevin Kennedy, states “we had to hire an HR Assistant to process all resumes, therefore, you are kindly requested to send a processing fee of $4.50, through PayPal) [sic] along with your resume.”

However, it’s doubtful that human resources costs are the sole reason Kennedy tried to force workers to pay to apply. Though Kennedy did not respond to the PRWA’s request for comment, in an email sent to a local restaurant manager (and subsequently obtained by the PRWA), Kennedy wrote, “our company has found on the East Coast that it elliminates [sic] the the Riff Raff! These days HR is important and expensive. Good Business!”

Any seasoned industry veteran would be instantly turned off by what Kennedy calls “good business.” The $4.50 fee may seem small, but the cost of conducting business should fall to the employer, not the potential employee. Plus, it’s also an indication of the type of work environment a worker can expect if she or he is lucky enough to be offered a position. What else would an employer like this charge workers for? Will they be expected to use their tips to cover laundry costs or shortages in the register? Will they be expected to work off the clock or otherwise subsidize the costs of doing business?

One of the first job seekers to report the ad to Craigslist on August 8, 2009, who wishes to remain anonymous, was a service-industry veteran offended by what she calls the “scaminess” of charging a worker to apply.   The story was picked up by Portland Food and Drink shortly after.

As a former hiring manager herself, she says that “even if you receive 100 resumes…a quick peak [sic] at the most recent employers will fully take care of that.” If only 100 applicants responded — and an ad as broad as this could easily receive many times that — Urban Restaurants, Inc. would have made $450 to do what many managers do regularly in the course of business. It’s unreasonable to charge an applicant $4.50 to only have their application glanced at, especially if there’s no guarantee of a follow-up interview or phone call.

Unfortunately, there are few protections for potential employees in cases like this. Lake Oswego labor lawyer Jon Egan notes that there are legal protections in Rhode Island against an employer charging application fees, but says, “I haven’t found any other state or federal statutes specifically addressing this issue. There is certainly no Oregon law on this issue.”

Whether or not it’s legal, it is unethical to charge potential employees to pay to apply. Paying Urban Restaurants, Inc. $4.50 only ensures that an assistant will look at a resume. There is no guarantee that the assistant would extensively review a worker’s qualifications or give them the consideration you’d expect from paying to apply. Plus, the implications of this tactic — that workers are “Riff Raff” if they feel uncomfortable paying to apply for a job — are unconscionable, especially given that Oregon’s unemployment rate is hovering around 12 percent.

Given this ad’s quick demise, we hope that other employers take note.

New Bill in Congress May Help Sick Workers

Posted in News Archive with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2009 by pdxrwa

by William Pilgrim

In response to the hysteria generated by the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urges workers, “if you have symptoms of influenza-like illness, stay home for 7 days after symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer.” The CDC’s advice to employers? Encourage sick employees to stay away from the workplace and to “provide flexible leave policies.”

Unfortunately, it is estimated that nearly 90 percent of restaurant workers are afforded no paid sick leave.  That may soon change if the Healthy Families Act, awaiting approval in the House and Senate, is finally passed.

In the United States alone, “40,617 confirmed and probable infections… have been identified by CDC and state and local public health departments,” since the first case of novel influenza A H1N1 was reported on April 17, 2009.  As October draws closer, ushering in the beginning of the flu season, more and more workers will be faced with the choice of missing work (and potentially being fired) or going to work sick.

Louie Chavez, 24, is a grill cook at a popular cafe in Northwest Portland.  In his six years in the restaurant industry, he has never received a paid sick day or health benefits. Though in the past he’s had the impression that benefits would come some day he says, “After a year of working where I do… I don’t expect to see them at all.”  Chavez says there have been “a few times when there was no one else and [he had] to suck it up and just go” to work while ill. He also had a past employer deny his request to leave after he began feeling nauseous at work.

Restaurant workers, who account for 10 percent of the workforce in Oregon, are among the most vulnerable to airborne illnesses.  As with other strains of flu, H1N1 is spread by person-to-person contact from coughing, sneezing, or contact with bodily fluids. Employees in this industry work in high-traffic areas with numerous points of contact with potentially infected individuals.  Sadly, these workers can least afford to take the CDC’s recommended time off.

A minimum wage worker, working a 33-hour work week, would lose $277 by staying home from work for the seven days suggested by the CDC.  Employees receiving tips lose even more.  Furthermore, few restaurant workers are offered employee health coverage or access to affordable healthcare.   At a time when many Americans are struggling financially, staying home from work because of influenza-like symptoms may not be an option.

There may be hope on the horizon.  So far the cities of San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C. have mandated employee sick leave.  State-level campaigns are developing nationwide.

San Francisco’s Proposition F, passed in 2006, allows any employee to begin accruing paid sick days after 90 calendar days of employment.  Eligible workers are awarded one hour for every 30 hours worked, with a cap of 40 hours for employees of small businesses, and 72 hours for employees of all other businesses. This leave can be accrued from year-to-year, though leave may not exceed the imposed caps.

Nationally, the Healthy Families Act was introduced in the House and Senate late last May by Rep. Rosa DeLauro [D-CT] and Senator Ted Kennedy [D-MA].  The bill is now awaiting approval in the Committee on Education and Labor, the Committees on Oversight and Government Reform, and House Administration.

The Healthy Families Act would require certain employers, at businesses employing 15 or more workers during each working day for 20 or more workweeks a year, to allow employees to accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 56 hours.  This sick leave will allow workers to seek medical attention for themselves, or for, ”a child, a parent, a spouse, or any other individual …whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” The bill also allows employees to use paid sick leave for an absence resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

The Healthy Families Act is a commendable first step in protecting workers.  Both full-time and part-time employees at the required businesses would be afforded sick leave in the current bill.  The bill also states that employees cannot be required to cover, or search for a replacement, for any sick leave they take.  The Healthy Families Act could also allow same-sex couples or LGBT families leave to care for their partners or children, since many of these families are not covered under traditional, privately offered plans.

According to calculations from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), by providing mandatory leave, “our national economy would experience a net savings of $1.8 billion a year due to increased productivity and reduced turnover.”  Providing sick leave to the more than 170,000 restaurant workers in Oregon would save $9 million a year.

Unfortunately, powerful anti-worker lobbies, like the Oregon Restaurant Association (ORA), have already come out against mandatory sick leave to employees.  The ORA believes that “flexible” work hours and schedules provided by restaurants best meet the needs of their employees, and that “many” restaurants offer a paid-time-off benefits structure that would be threatened by mandatory employee sick leave.

The Healthy Families Act is not a universal solution to public health worries or workers’ rights.  If the act passes in its current form, 30 percent of restaurant workers would still be ineligible for paid leave because their workplaces’ employ fewer than 15 workers.  However, the Healthy Families Act remains a bold initiative towards providing a greater number of food service workers with paid sick leave considering that, according to most estimates, only 10 to 20 percent of current restaurant workers are offered any paid leave.

With the flu season approaching, Congress and the nation cannot afford delay passage of the Healthy Families Act. Although many restaurant workers would still not be covered, it’s an important first step in ensuring that every worker can take care of themselves, or their loved ones, in the event of an illness.  And we can no longer accept a system that encourages low-income workers, especially those handling our food, to work sick in fear of lost wages or retaliation.

Healthcare Resources

Posted in Healthcare Resource with tags , , , , , on October 22, 2008 by pdxrwa

The Coalition of Community Health Clinics

The Coalition of Community Health Clinics is a network of 13 private, non-profit health clinics located throughout Multnomah County. These clinics provide health services to the uninsured and under-served men, women and children in the Portland Metropolitan area.

http://www.coalitionclinics.org/clinics-location.html
http://www.coalitionclinics.org/find-healthcare.html

The Coalition’s website also gives links to other low-cost healthcare providers in the Portland metropolitan area. Go to and click on the links to find out more information about what services these clinics offer: http://www.coalitionclinics.org/other-clinics.html.

Outside-in

The Medical Clinic is a coalition of medical and naturopathic doctors and interns, acupuncturists, and Chinese herbalists all of whom provide cutting edge multi-disciplinary primary care to homeless youth and low-income individuals lacking health insurance.

1132 SW 13th Ave
Portland, OR 97205-1703
http://www.outsidein.org/

Call: 503-535-3890 between 10am and 12pm or between 3pm and 5pm Monday through Friday.

Seven Star Acupuncture

Seven Star offers discounted specials on Thursdays for all restaurant workers.

436 SE 12th Ave
Portland, OR 97214
503-236-6833
http://sevenstarpdx.com/

Monday 9am-8pm, Tuesday – Friday 10am-8pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday CLOSED

Working Class Acupuncture

Sliding scale is $15-$35 per treatment. You decide what you can afford. There is a $10 paperwork fee for the first session.

3526 NE 57th Ave.
Portland, OR 97213
http://www.workingclassacupuncture.org/
Call: 503-335-9440

Monday thru Friday: 8:30am-8pm, Saturday: 9am-4pm & Sunday: 9am-3pm

YWCA

The YWCA offers counseling services for female identified persons on a sliding scale. Rates start at $19 a session. Most clients attend counseling once a week.

  • Must be age 14 or older.
  • Must be able to pay on a sliding fee scale based on income and family size.

To find out more or schedule an appointment, please call 503-294-7440.

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