Archive for Toast & Pho

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.

Collective Action Wins Worker’s Back Wages from Toast & Pho

Posted in News Archive with tags , , , , on November 19, 2009 by pdxrwa


by William Pilgrim

David Sokolowski was excited by the promise of starting a full time waiting position at the recently opened Vietnamese/American restaurant Toast & Pho. Toast & Pho, located at 103 NW 21st Ave., opened Sunday, November 1. By Monday Sokolowski was fired, and left unpaid for nearly two weeks of work.  On Sunday, November 8, Sokolowski confronted his former employer, and with help from workers involved with the Portland Restaurant Workers Association (PRWA), Sokolowski received his due.

November 18, 2009

Sokolowski –a six year industry veteran with both quick serve and fine dining experience– left a full-time supervisory position at Pita Pit to help prepare Toast & Pho for its opening.  From the beginning, it was, “pure chaos.” Sokolowski said, “there were a couple times, before the restaurant opened, that I was notified of a training [by suppliers, not restaurant management], meeting or cleaning after the shift had already begun.”

Though the wait staff participated in meetings before the restaurant opened, there was no training provided or expectations established regarding wait staff responsibilities.  Sokolowski says that, “none of the management team had any previous restaurant experience but believed their authority should not be questioned.”  Management removed three of the original five wait staff from the schedule after the first day, without telling the workers they were fired.

A manager told the two remaining members, including Sokolowski, that teams of new trainees would be brought in to compete with them, and if they weren’t the fastest they too would be fired. After working the breakfast shift on November 2, Toast & Pho terminated Sokolowski’s employment but failed to pay his final wages and tips totaling $306.40.

Sokolowski, “felt betrayed.  They were taking advantage of all wait staff workers, and treating them very badly.” The inexperienced managers were demanding and unreasonable, expecting wait staff to take on responsibilities they had never been explained or communicated.  When employees did not meet these expectations, management was abusive, berating employees and threatening their jobs.  Sokolowski recalls that during a busy period, “the owner proceeded to yell at me across the dining area from the kitchen,” for not picking up and delivering food quickly enough.

While at Toast & Pho, Sokolowski witnessed other abuses and violations.  Management did not record hours worked before or after the restaurant was opened, employees did not fill out W-4’s to report their wages.  Wait staff was not given or offered the required 10 and 30 minute breaks during the two days Sokolowski worked. And because only management had access to the computers or money, the wait staff had no way of tracking their tips, or knowing what they’d earned.

Unemployed and uncertain if he would ever be paid, Sokolowski turned to the Portland Restaurant Workers Association (PRWA) for support.  The PRWA’s Workers Support Committee met with Sokolowski on Friday, November 6 to coordinate a plan of action to secure a timely payment of his wages.  With their advice, Sokolowski contacted Toast & Pho by phone and email on Saturday to notify management he would be coming in the next day to pick up his wages.  In his phone exchange, his former manager assured Sokolowski his check was waiting for him.

But, because Toast & Pho had proven itself less than genuine already, Sokolowski and the PRWA prepared for collective and legal action. The PRWA alerted its Solidarity Action Network, designed to provide direct and visible support to workers confronting their employers, that Sokolowski would need their support in case he did not receive his wages on Sunday.  By failing to pay Sokolowski his final wages and tips by the end of the first business day after his discharge, Toast & Pho was in violation of Oregon state law ORS 652.140 and subject to Bureau of Labor & Industry (BOLI) wage claim investigation or civil lawsuit.

When Sokolowski and three PRWA Solidarity Action Network members arrived at Toast & Pho on Sunday, November 8 they were told by his former manager that no paychecks were available and offered Sokolowski a beverage for the “inconvenience.”  Sokolowski was forced to produce a completed W-4 and a BOLI wage claim form before the owner was willing to compensate him.  The owner  immediately said, “write him a check for whatever he wants.”

Sokolowski states:

“They had no idea how much anyone had earned in tips, so they accepted my requested amount without hesitation. They did not account for any of my training, cleaning or waiting hours, so they accepted my requested amount. They attempted to take 30 minutes off of each shift even though no wait staff employee was allowed any 10 or 30 minute breaks for any of shifts, so they retracted that under my demand.”

Toast & Pho were only willing to pay when threatened with legal action, and originally stated that “miscommunication” led Sokolowski to believe that his paycheck would be ready Sunday.  While this was clearly victory for Sokolowski, he still fears that the other three employees, who were fired without notice, have not yet received their pay.  Without access to their contact information, or even the last names of his former coworkers, he has been unable pursue that matter further.

In interviews, Sokolowski was grateful for the prompt support and collective action. Inexperience cannot be an excuse for this kind of behavior in an employer.  With these kinds of systemic abuses built into the management of Toast & Pho, it’s likely that they will continue.  But direct action, with support from other workers, may help, and the PRWA is proud to have assisted.

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