Holding signs and placards, a small group of restaurant workers and allies gathered on Tuesday in front of Bonchon Korean Fried Chicken in Dinkytown. They came to celebrate a final settlement resulting in over $10,000 in back wages, tips, and damages paid to former Bonchon workers.

Erin Lynch, a member, and leader with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota (ROC-MN), stated, “We’re here to tell the story of workers being exploited and a story of workers standing up for their legal and moral rights. And a story of workers winning.”

One year ago, Bonchon Minneapolis, operated by ZAC inc., a local franchise operation of a multinational restaurant corporation, opened its first location in Uptown, Minneapolis. Workers alleged that from the beginning, they faced wage theft in the form of stolen tips, minimum wage violations, and illegal credit card processing fee deductions.

Last spring, after multiple good-faith attempts to engage with their employer directly, former Bonchon workers joined with ROC-MN to put public pressure on the restaurant to pay back stolen wages and damages to workers. Workers also filed complaints with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

“When I started working at Bonchon, I didn’t know about the labor movement and worker’s rights. I thought that if people went to work and didn’t get treated right, they just had to find a new job,” former Bonchon worker Mya Bradford stated at the press conference. “I knew something was wrong, but I just thought that’s how it is. Then my co-worker Amber and I started meeting with ROC. I learned we weren’t getting mandatory breaks, we weren’t getting sick and safe time. They paid us under minimum wage. We weren’t valued for our hard work. They didn’t respect our basic human rights. Sometimes you’ve got to show people, no, you can’t do that.”

Now I can see all the different ways that working people are held back from getting the basic needs and respect they deserve. When this was happening to me, I didn’t even know it was happening, but what I did know is that I wasn’t able to afford a place to live because of a greedy company. People are living paycheck to paycheck just short of a car or a house or groceries and thinking they need to work more, not even knowing their bosses are stealing. There are all these things stopping people from getting to succeed in life.

Mya Bradford

On May 7th, 2019, a rally was held outside of Bonchon Uptown that shut down traffic outside of the restaurant on Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street, one of the cities busiest intersections.

This public pressure prompted the previously silent Bonchon franchise to repay some of the owed wages and respond publicly on their Facebook page.

At the end of the summer, former workers received final settlement checks after the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, and the Labor Enforcement Division reached a settlement with the restaurant’s ownership.

Since August, former Bonchon workers have been cashing final settlement checks for damages and stolen wages in the form of minimum wage violations and sick and safe time infractions.

If I had had that money from the start, I wouldn’t have had to work two jobs. I would have been able to make more time for studying, make more time for self-care. If we had got that money from the jump, our lives would have been completely different. We had to go through this struggle, we had to go through this fight with Bonchon, for something that should have been ours. There are so many business people out there taking advantage, and it’s not right. I feel like a lot of us that worked there before are in better places in our lives now, and part of that is that ROC has pushed and helped us fight together

Sharon Record former Bonchon Uptown Server.

Speakers at the rally were quick to point out that workplace abuses in the restaurant industry are not limited to Bonchon.

This past month the U.S. DOL released the results of an enforcement sweep that uncovered nearly $400k of stolen wages. That was on one street in Minneapolis. Had they swept the entire city, they would have found what we know as workers in the industry; people work off the clock, people are harassed for their race/gender/sexual orientation. People are taken advantage of for; not speaking English, being undocumented, being young, being desperate.

Erin Lynch

Speakers affirmed their commitment to continue organizing in the restaurant industry.

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