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Restaurant appears to be getting rid of employees by offering unsuitable jobs

clifffaith

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This story made my blood boil so much I've twice prodded Cliff "did you read this yet?" Upscale LA restaurant is playing fast and lose with their employees livelihoods and unemployment benefits.

 

Luanne

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Behind a paywall.
I saw it, and I don't have a paid subscription.

By Lucas Kwan PetersonFood Columnist

June 19, 2020
7 AM

A little over three months ago, Alexander Galvez was waiting tables at Yamashiro, the storied hilltop restaurant known for its spectacular Hollywood views that began life as a massive Asian-inspired estate in 1914. When Yamashiro began preparing to reopen after the shutdown, Galvez hoped to be offered his old job back. What he didn’t expect was that Yamashiro wanted him to have turned into a handyman.

Working in the restaurant industry has never been easy. But as L.A. and other cities across the country chaotically attempt to go about business as usual, restaurant servers, hosts and bartenders on the front lines of the reopening are particularly at risk.

“I’m concerned I might get sick, but I feel like there’s no choice,” said Galvez, who worked for four years at Yamashiro. “I’m scared, to be honest. But we have to pay bills.”
Most restaurants try to look out for their employees. But Galvez and other workers at Yamashiro say an already stressful predicament has been exacerbated by the restaurant’s job offers — offers that seem to test the boundaries of what “good faith” is.


I spoke to multiple former Yamashiro employees, all of whom claim they were made decidedly bad-faith offers of employment by the restaurant, forcing them to either accept an unsuitable job or risk losing their unemployment benefits. The experience, many said, has left them feeling confused and devastated, and made an already stressful situation even worse.
Former front-of-house staff, including bartender, host and server employees, told me they received emails from Charles Mills, Yamashiro’s director of operations, with offers to return to the restaurant, as well as a statement that Yamashiro had received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program, a government loan program designed to help small businesses weather the shutdown.

But the jobs weren’t what they expected — or the jobs they had departed from. Instead they were maintenance positions — doing things like plumbing, HVAC and electrical work. The offer required that employees sign a document affirming they had proper qualifications for the jobs, which included stipulations such as having prior experience with carpet shampooers and pressure washers and being able to lift and move more than 100 pounds.

“I’m 5 feet 5 inches and 125 pounds altogether,” said Alisa Gerstein, who began working as a server at Yamashiro in 2017 and was offered a maintenance job. “I could never do that. It was clearly just a crazy offer.” She said she called Mills to complain but was told it was the only position available.

Gerstein said she was shocked, then, to see posts for front-of-house positions at Yamashiro on Indeed.com. Screenshots of the website show a solicitation for bartenders, bussers, runners and servers. She had turned on notifications for server positions and received an email from Indeed telling her she should apply to work at Yamashiro. “It was just appalling,” she said.
Restaurant workers have taken the full brunt of the shutdown’s impact, suffering not only from potential health concerns but financial fallout — nearly 6 million restaurant jobs have been lost, according to a report released by the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

To help make up for lost wages, the Federal CARES Act included an additional $600 per week for the unemployed, a benefit the government will provide through the end of July. As restaurants reopen in the limited capacities they can, they are offering former employees some version of their jobs back, because they need the labor and/or because provisions in the PPP require restaurants to do so to exact the maximum benefit for themselves.

But the choice to go back is fraught: Workers can return to a high-risk environment or, by refusing an offer of work, possibly lose unemployment benefits. With some restaurant workers making as much — or more — on unemployment as in their jobs, the threat of losing that money is a real worry.

The key provision of the PPP allows for loan forgiveness if a given percentage of the money is used to pay employees — in which case, the loan becomes essentially free money for the restaurant.
A caveat in the payroll rule allows for “loan forgiveness reduction for borrowers who have made a good-faith, written offer to rehire workers that was declined.” In other words, employers must make an honest attempt to hire back their employees. If the employees refuse, that’s not the fault of the business in the PPP’s eyes.
For Galvez, the motive to offer seemingly unsuitable jobs is apparent: “It’s a win-win for them. They get to clean house and keep a portion of the loan,” he said.

“What’s troubling about it is, they knew they were putting us in a position to say no,” said a former server who did not want to be identified for fear of losing other employment opportunities.
“Even if we were to say yes, we’d have to sign that job description,” she said. “They could say, a week from now, ‘You’re not doing the job very well. You don’t seem to have the qualifications you said you had.’”

Days after being asked to step into a role in which she had no experience, she said Yamashiro sent her a letter stating she had turned down the job — a step it would need to complete to prove it had made a good-faith offer.

Former Yamashiro bartender Aaron Polsky said that six days after getting a maintenance job offer, he also received an email noting that his turning it down “may impact state unemployment benefits.” He called the company “unprofessional and uncompassionate.”

“Absent good cause, refusing to return to work in many cases will disqualify you from collecting unemployment,” said Emanuel Shirazi, owner of Shirazi Law Firm. Exceptions could be made if, for example, the job was unsafe. “The devil’s in the details — what is ‘unsafe?’” Shirazi said. He said California’s Employment Development Department likely would look at whether the restaurant was in compliance with state and local guidelines.

But for Yamashiro employees, that’s little consolation. “I have to accept something completely unsuitable, or I have to decline it and take up an appeal with the EDD,” said one hostess, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution from the company.

Yamashiro’s Mills, who sent out the maintenance job offers, did not respond to a request for comment.

The entire experience has left Gerstein feeling worried and disillusioned with the industry. “Restaurant work feels so unstable,” she said. And above all, she feels a great sense of disappointment. “It’s really heartbreaking I won’t be able to be in that beautiful building.
“I would have been back there in a heartbeat,” she said. “I really loved this job.”
 

PamMo

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I could read it, too. It seems like EVERYONE is between a rock and a hard place. If you don't have paying customers in a restaurant, it might be considered compassionate to offer a maintenance job to a server who otherwise wouldn't have a job. I wonder what the whole story is?
 
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Luanne

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I could read it, too. It seems like EVERYONE is between a rock and a hard place. If you don't have paying customers in a restaurant, it might be consideted compassionate to offer a maintenance job to a server who otherwise wouldn't have a job. I wonder what the whole story is?
The part that got me was from the one employee who saw ads for the "front office" jobs when all she was offered was a maintenance type one.
 

Passepartout

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This will be played out over and over again in every industry. I was trucking in a short haul gig in the 2008 recession. I had heavy seniority. My employer said I had to go long haul and train student drivers. I'd get home at like 5-6 week intervals. Fortunately I was 62 and could retire, but not everyone can be that lucky.
 

turkel

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I am not buying it. My kids both work at restaurants. Neither collected unemployment even though their work hours were reduced as only take out was available.

When we were in Arizona a waiter told us they couldn’t get employees to return since most made more on unemployment.

We went out to a restaurant today in NorCal. Today was the first day they were open for outdoor seating. We were the only customers for the hour it took to eat lunch.

The restaurant owners have been hit hard. So have employees. Life is not back to normal. I found this article worthless.
 

Brett

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This will be played out over and over again in every industry. I was trucking in a short haul gig in the 2008 recession. I had heavy seniority. My employer said I had to go long haul and train student drivers. I'd get home at like 5-6 week intervals. Fortunately I was 62 and could retire, but not everyone can be that lucky.

yes, no question. Restaurants have been hit particularly hard ... compared to say, the banking industry
 

Yellowfin

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I do not see the point of view of the restaurant. Like in any dispute, there are 2 sides and the truth is probably somewhere in between. If the article is trying to suggest that the restaurant owners are trying to profit from this situation, I am not buying it. Restaurant owners have been hit particularly hard. Probably many of them have lost close to everything.
 

davidvel

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I do not see the point of view of the restaurant. Like in any dispute, there are 2 sides and the truth is probably somewhere in between. If the article is trying to suggest that the restaurant owners are trying to profit from this situation, I am not buying it. Restaurant owners have been hit particularly hard. Probably many of them have lost close to everything.
If what is stated in the story is true, the restaurant is defrauding the Federal Government.
 

Talent312

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I am not buying it. My kids both work at restaurants. Neither collected unemployment even though their work hours were reduced as only take out was available.

My SS works at a mom+pop restaurant, a hole in the wall kind'a place. When dining rooms were closed, he was laid off. They said they'd want him back. Yeah, they wanted him back... at half his former pay. He said he would wait. They spent the next three weeks burning thru incompetent cooks. They finally offered to pay him at the former rate and he went back.

You may find the POV of the worker to be worthless. I find it valuable.
.
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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The article specifically addresses this where it says:

Yamashiro’s Mills, who sent out the maintenance job offers, did not respond to a request for comment.
Speaking from personal experience from having worked directly as a liaison with news agencies, I can fully understand why someone such as Mills might decline to comment. News agencies decide what the story is that they want to present, then they collect the facts to match the story. If you agree to be interviewed and your information doesn't match the story, they will twist it and massage it to accommodate the narrative, and make you appear as inept, bumbling, insensitive, etc. Many times "did not respond to a request for comment" is actually the most truthful possible outcome.

Always remember - the primary objective of news organizations is not to report the news. It is is to generate advertising and subscriber revenue. If there is more money to be made via advocacy than objectivity, advocacy will win out.

We, the consuming public, have decided to reward news agencies that spin and slant the news and engage in advocacy, versus those that have attempted to remain objective and balanced. So don't blame news organizations. Per Pogo - "We have met the enemy and he is us."
 

turkel

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My SS works at a mom+pop restaurant, a hole in the wall kind'a place. When dining rooms were closed, he was laid off. They said they'd want him back. Yeah, they wanted him back... at half his former pay. He said he would wait. They spent the next three weeks burning thru incompetent cooks. They finally offered to pay him at the former rate and he went back.

You may find the POV of the worker to be worthless. I find it valuable.
.
Ok so your SS refused to return to work at half pay while collecting unemployment.
You made my point for me.

In the end I am glad he returned to work for his full pay but unemployment should not be paid to those who refuse to work period.

My own DD is not pleased with her large chain restaurants new rules of pooling tips. So what is she doing? She gave them minimal availability while getting a second job. Smart girl!
 

bizaro86

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Speaking from personal experience from having worked directly as a liaison with news agencies, I can fully understand why someone such as Mills might decline to comment. News agencies decide what the story is that they want to present, then they collect the facts to match the story. If you agree to be interviewed and your information doesn't match the story, they will twist it and massage it to accommodate the narrative, and make you appear as inept, bumbling, insensitive, etc. Many times "did not respond to a request for comment" is actually the most truthful possible outcome.

Always remember - the primary objective of news organizations is not to report the news. It is is to generate advertising and subscriber revenue. If there is more money to be made via advocacy than objectivity, advocacy will win out.

We, the consuming public, have decided to reward news agencies that spin and slant the news and engage in advocacy, versus those that have attempted to remain objective and balanced. So don't blame news organizations. Per Pogo - "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Fair enough. I was responding to someone who said they don't see the restaurant's side of the story. But I don't think you can fault the journalist involved with the piece if they reached out for comment and received none.
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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Fair enough. I was responding to someone who said they don't see the restaurant's side of the story. But I don't think you can fault the journalist involved with the piece if they reached out for comment and received none.
Journalists are always expected to show at least some effort to get both sides of the story. How they do that and what they do with that information is a different matter.
 

davidvel

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Speaking from personal experience from having worked directly as a liaison with news agencies, I can fully understand why someone such as Mills might decline to comment. News agencies decide what the story is that they want to present, then they collect the facts to match the story. If you agree to be interviewed and your information doesn't match the story, they will twist it and massage it to accommodate the narrative, and make you appear as inept, bumbling, insensitive, etc. Many times "did not respond to a request for comment" is actually the most truthful possible outcome.

Always remember - the primary objective of news organizations is not to report the news. It is is to generate advertising and subscriber revenue. If there is more money to be made via advocacy than objectivity, advocacy will win out.

We, the consuming public, have decided to reward news agencies that spin and slant the news and engage in advocacy, versus those that have attempted to remain objective and balanced. So don't blame news organizations. Per Pogo - "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Or the restaurant is cheating the system and got caught.
 
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