By Paige Laver
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Earlier this week San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin wrote on Twitter “I am outraged by the scale of wage theft that occurred here ( Burger King). We are seeing similar crimes across the country. I have a simple message: don’t steal from workers in San Francisco. Great work by ( @LegalAidAtWork, Trabajadores Unidos). Workers must be paid.”
San Francisco Chronicle wrote about the wage theft that Burger King workers faced this year as several San Francisco locations of Burger King were hit with $1.9 million from California’s Labor Commissioner’s Office in 2020 over wage theft.
The citation accuses the franchisee Golden Gate Restaurant Group of not paying minimum wage, not paying employees overtime, refusing employees meal and rest breaks, and other violations that involve inadequate care for their employees.
This impacted more than 230 people who worked at five different Burger King restaurants across San Francisco from 2016-2019, said worker supporters.
On a separate occasion, San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement discovered that Golden Gate failed to make required health care payments on behalf of 235 employees from 2016 to 2018. In 2020, Golden Gate and the city of San Francisco settled for more than $800,000.
Trabajadores Unidos Workers United and Legal Aid at Work, two nonprofit organizations working with the former Burger King employees, have made the fight for justice public after learning that Golden Gate has sold or closed all of their Bay Area Burger King Restaurants.
Owner Monu Singh did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the Labor Commissioner’s Office has not scheduled a hearing for the case yet.
Workers have yet to see the $1.9 million due to Golden Gate filing an appeal against the decision, according to news reports. And the groups that support workers said the health care settlement’s payment plan is very slow moving, and that workers haven’t seen very much of the $800,000, and the final payment for that will not be due for another decade, until 2031.
Adriana Rendon, who worked as a cook at one of the Golden Gate operated Burger Kings for seven years until 2018, described the work environment as stressful without paid breaks.
“Because there was so little personnel on the site, I had to be working in the front also delivering food to customers,” she reported. “We were practically working two to three positions.”
Rendon wept when she remembered an instance when she was not allowed to take a sick day when her daughter felt ill. Her only option was to find a babysitter. Without health insurance, she would have had to pay out of pocket on a minimum wage pay if she wanted to take her daughter to the doctor.
Kim Ouilette, who is an attorney for Legal Aid at Work, reported how it’s common for fast food franchises to disregard labor laws and shut down operations in an attempt to avoid paying citations, although it’s unclear whether that happened with Golden Gate’s Burger King locations.
“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,” Ouilette said in a statement.
In the past several years, local nonprofits have helped workers in wage theft cases against Yank Sing, Burma Superstar, Gorda Taqueria and other Bay Area restaurants.
Most recently, famed Chinatown spot Z & Y Restaurant settled a wage theft case for $1.61 million. An Economic Policy Institute study in 2017 found that 17 percent of low- wage workers in the 10 most populous states are paid less than minimum wage.
Since leaving Burger King, Rendon reported that she’s held multiple jobs where the employers respected employee rights. She is hoping to use future money from Golden Gate Restaurant Group to get a bigger apartment. Right now, she is renting a one bedroom apartment for herself and two children.
“Living here in San Francisco is very expensive. Not only do you need to put down a deposit but you also need at least two months of rent ready,” Rendon said. “This would be really impactful for me and my kids.”