Restaurant workers protest bouncing paychecks


Former employees of the Tasty Buddha restaurant picket near the 43rd Street location over wage issues in Gainesville on Sunday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 8:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 8:56 p.m.

A group of frustrated employees endured heat and rainy weather this weekend to wave signs in protest of what they said have been a string of bounced paychecks from Tasty Buddha, a restaurant with Asian and American menu items at 2410 NW 43rd St.

The handful of servers and cooks decided to make their grievances public after they said they tried to cash their paychecks on Friday but were told there were insufficient funds in the company’s account. The protesters said similar difficulties have occurred on multiple occasions over the past year.

“When this stuff happens, our bills become delayed and then we have to pay them late and then you are stuck paying late fees and things like that,” grill cook Andy Rodibaugh, 26, said.

Rodibaugh said he had to cancel his Internet service after receiving late pay, costing him a $40 fee to restart it.

“They try to pay us tidbits out of the drawer. You know, what they have depending on who needs money now,” he said.

“It’s pretty insulting to see our owner sort of talking out of two sides of his mouth,” said server Marissa Jane Pollack, 21. “Because he claims that we are family to him, yet meanwhile he doesn’t have the respect to pay us on time. We are human beings, we have bills to pay.”

Parker Van Hart, president and CEO of Tasty Buddha Restaurants, issued a statement on Tasty Buddha’s Facebook page about the strike. He called Saturday, the first day of the strike, “The worst day of my professional career.”

“There have been a few times when paychecks given out on Friday haven’t been cashable immediately. If this happens we pay as many as we can in cash from the register. The rest never have gone more than a day or so before things are made right. The protesters today could have gone to the bank today and cashed their checks. The funds are available,” Van Hart wrote Saturday.

In his post, Van Hart admitted that Tasty Buddha has been pushed to its limits over the past few years. He called his employees his family and expressed embarrassment for their inconvenience. He also called the eight to 10 protesters childish and bitter, saying they have an agenda to push.

Van Hart did not address the grievances of the protesters in the post. Attempts to contact him on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Rodibaugh said police came to the restaurant location twice on Saturday to tell the protesters to stay out of the building and off the roads.

“We are obviously going to abide by that because we don’t want to be kicked out, because we are trying to shut down production as much as possible, give them the least amount of business until our demands are met,” Rodibaugh said.

Pollack said individuals have dropped off sandwiches, water, sunscreen and other supplies to the protesters in support of the cause. Groups such as the Alachua County Wage Theft Task Force, Industrial Workers of the World, International Socialist Organization and Occupy Gainesville have also rallied behind the effort.

Employees of a second Tasty Buddha location, at 25 NW 16th Ave., have not spoken publicly about the strike. Both restaurants are owned by Van Hart.

Pollack said what the group is hoping for is an immediate return to work.

“We are trying to expedite things as quickly as possible and we are giving Parker Van Hart every opportunity to meet with us and do what’s right. And we are just going to keep pulling out more things from our arsenal as he fails to meet with us,” she said.

The employees agree that they have enjoyed working at the business and contributing to its friendly atmosphere.

“We don’t want to turn away business indefinitely either,” prep cook Mo Sherman, 23, said. “We love working here and once our demands are met we want to go back to working and welcome customers to a place that finally does treat their employees the right way,” he added.

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