Tri City Foods, the owner of dozens of Burger King restaurants in the Midwest, has been ordered to pay $458,931 in restitution to workers and $100,000 to the city of Chicago after the company denied employees paid sick leave during the covid-19 pandemic, according to a press release from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
At least 2,473 Chicago workers were denied paid sick leave at 40 Burger King locations owned by Tri City, according to the city, which passed an ordinance in July 2017 that allows workers paid sick leave.
Strangely, paid sick leave is not guaranteed under federal law in the U.S. but is considered standard in every other wealthy country around the world. After all, who wants someone who’s sick preparing their food, even if you disregard the basic rights of employees in the equation?
The fines against Tri City, first reported by Block Club Chicago, were part of a negotiated settlement with the company reached last week but announced publicly for the first time on Thursday. Workers will be paid their restitution “over the next few months” according to the mayor’s office.
“This violation was brought to the office’s attention through a brave essential worker who called 311 to file a complaint. And I want to thank them for their courageousness in taking the initiative and helping bring about justice for themselves and their fellow workers,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a press conference on Thursday that was livestreamed on YouTube.
“When you are paid in a minimum wage job, when you worry about your job and living from paycheck to paycheck, it takes a lot to stand up and assert your rights and say something here isn’t fair. And this is a big deal. And this person’s taking the initiative means not only that person is covered, but the workers are covered to the tune of almost five hundred thousand dollars.”
The covid-19 pandemic has brought to light countless holes in the social safety net in the U.S., including the issues around sick leave for so-called essential workers. People who prepare food were hailed as heroes at the start of the pandemic in 2020 but that feeling quickly melted away, with Republicans becoming disgusted that low-paid workers aren’t just shutting up and going to work at menial jobs.
But some people are still looking out for the common worker, even in imperfect city governments like Chicago.
“Protecting workers can only be achieved if our businesses comply with Chicago’s worker protection policies which we have championed over the past two years, with more to come,” Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, Rosa Escareño, said in a statement.
“Basic paid sick leave is a fundamental right, and I am proud to deliver this huge victory for workers,” Escareño continued. “Thousands of workers are receiving the restitution they deserve today because one brave employee stepped up and brought these violations to our attention.”
“We hope this encourages more workers to come forward with complaints and reminds all businesses that we must work together to build a strong economy which prioritizes worker rights in our great city.”