A group of 19 employees, who are mostly undocumented immigrants, recently received tens of thousands in back pay after they staged a walkout at an IHOP restaurant in Winston-Salem, an immigrant advocacy organization said.
The employees received about $20,000 in back wages on May 17 at the IHOP restaurant at 1295 Silas Creek Parkway, said Juan Miranda of Greensboro, the organizing director for Siembra NC. Those workers had walked away from their jobs at the restaurant on May 1, Miranda said.
After they received their back pay, most of the employees decided not to return to their jobs at that restaurant, Miranda said. Some found other jobs while others are still looking for work, he said.
“The problems with the payroll were chronic,” Miranda said. “There were late payments or no payments to these employees.”
The restaurant is owned by a franchisee, Sun Holdings Inc. of Dallas. Tim Comer, an attorney with Sun Holdings, did not respond to three telephone messages seeking comment. A manager at the local restaurant said he was aware of what happened and would refer questions to a media representative. Separately, two inquiries to IHOP’s media contact email yielded no response.
The apparent money woes at the restaurant went back to its reopening in October 2020, Siembra NC said in a news release.
The restaurant may have been experiencing reduced earnings after Sun Holdings bought that location and 40 other IHOP restaurants in October 2020 from another franchisee that went bankrupt in the spring of 2020, Miranda said.
“Some of these people had been there for a long time,” Miranda said of the employees who were owed back pay. “In the middle of the pandemic, it was hard to find other jobs.”
In its statement, Siembra NC featured the story of Rosa Gonzalez that went viral in social media on May 1 after co-worker Vanessa Becerril posted a video on TikTok showing a group of IHOP employees walking out of the kitchen in the middle of their shift. The group took that action after Gonzalez was denied pay she was owed for 80 hours of work, Siembra NC said.
In less than 48 hours, Becerril’s video had received millions of views and public demands that Gonzalez be paid were being posted all over the restaurant’s social media, Siembra NC said.
As a result of the pressure, a regional manager soon delivered a paycheck to Gonzalez, paying her for all the hours that she worked, the organization said. A week later, the remaining employees marched together to the restaurant to collect their paychecks, including wages they had been denied from previous months, the organization said.
Gonzalez, 34, of Winston-Salem said through a translator that she started working for the IHOP restaurant in October 2020 when the restaurant reopened.
“From the beginning, there were always problems with payment,” Gonzalez said. “Checks were always late. My first check didn’t come until two months later.
“One time, no one got paid for a whole month,” Gonzalez said. “This last time was the worse because they didn’t even give excuses. They just told me that they were not going to pay me even though they knew about my status and had told me to work that entire month.”
Gonzalez lives paycheck to paycheck, she said. She and her husband have three children.
The restaurant could have learned through the E-Verify system that most of its employees were undocumented immigrants, and they didn’t have Social Security numbers, Miranda said.
E-Verify is web-based system that allows employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States, according to its federal government website.
The restaurant was “trying to get away with it” by not paying many of these workers, Miranda said. “They didn’t think undocumented workers would complain.”
Siembra NC describes non-payment of employees as wage theft, which violates North Carolina’s labor laws, the organization said. When an employer fails to pay its employees, then a violation of federal labor laws has occurred, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor said.
The N.C. Department of Labor would oversee these non-payment issues with IHOP employees, said Dolores Quesenberry, a spokeswoman for the state Labor Department. The agency’s Wage and Hour Bureau hasn’t received any recent wage complaints concerning IHOP in the Winston-Salem area, Quesenberry said.
An affected employee must file a wage complaint before the bureau would open investigation into the matter, Quesenberry said.
Some of the affected IHOP employees looked into the process of filing a complaint, Miranda said. However, many believed that the process would take too long because months would pass before they got a response from the state Labor Department, he said.
Her husband has a construction job, Gonzalez said.
“Between the pandemic and the winter weather, his work was significantly reduced.” Gonzalez said. “Not getting those checks meant that we didn’t have enough (money) to buy the things we needed, and we had no choice but to go without.”