The 400 hourly workers who lost their jobs at such restaurants as Zahav, Federal Donuts, and Goldie Falafel because of the coronavirus pandemic will now get paid their sick leave, the owners said Wednesday.
“We’re paying all of your accrued sick leave,” CookNSolo restaurant group said in an email to ex-staffers
The nationally renowned restaurant group helmed by Steve Cook and chef Michael Solomonov came under fire from its laid-off workers in recent days when it backtracked on a decision to pay out paid sick leave, saying that to do so would put the business in a precarious financial position. Workers organized a petition, signed by almost 1,000 people, calling for CookNSolo to pay the sick leave that workers had earned. They pointed to an emergency city law, announced last Monday, that required employers to do so.
In the email sent on their behalf by a manager, Cook and Solomonov slammed the city for its opaque regulations and seemed to suggest a legal challenge.
“Nevertheless, our fight is with the city, not with you. And you do not deserve to be collateral damage in this fight. We will be processing a special payroll as soon as possible so that we can resolve this issue in your favor.”
CookNSolo declined to comment.
Some workers had accrued 12 hours of sick leave, while others had accrued 30 or 40. For some, like Collin Zastempowski, who made $12 an hour plus tips working at Goldie and Dizengoff, the check would have been the difference between making rent this month or not.
Philadelphia expanded its five-year-old paid-sick-leave law to include workers affected by the health crisis. The changes to the law, as interpreted by the city, included requiring employers to allow their workers to use their accrued paid sick time before laying them off. In effect, the city was ordering employers to pay their workers for the sick time they had earned.
Rick Grimaldi, an employment-side lawyer at Fisher Phillips, said an employer could challenge the city’s interpretation of the emergency regulations in court, since the original sick leave law states that workers do not need to be paid out for any unused sick time upon termination.
Candace Chewning, spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Labor, said that under the city’s paid sick leave law, it’s illegal to interfere with an employee’s ability to use earned sick time. Terminating an employee instead of allowing the person to use sick time while a business is closed during the pandemic — which the emergency regulations allow — would be a violation of the law, she said.
She encouraged employers who are not clear on the law to reach out to her office.
Restaurant industry workers are among the hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who lost their jobs in the last 10 days because of efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus. There are 320,000 low-wage service workers in Philadelphia, making up almost half the city’s workforce.
CookNSolo raised a $150,000 relief fund for its workers through the sales of gift cards and the co-owners’ personal money. The company is distributing the funds to workers on the basis of need and is currently accepting applications.
The CookNSolo issue highlights the stakes of the city’s poor track record in enforcing and educating workers and employers on a growing slate of worker protection laws. It also shows the potential of these laws when bolstered by worker organizing and public pressure.
Workers at another high-profile restaurant company, Stephen Starr’s Starr Restaurant Group, said last week that they were not getting the sick leave payout, either, according to a WHYY report published Friday. But as of Tuesday, some Starr workers at such restaurants as Parc and Talula’s Garden told The Inquirer they were recently informed that they could get their payout.
Starr did not respond to a request for comment.