Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa protests alleged wage theft at Short’s Burgers Eastside

The organization held a protest outside of Short’s Burgers Eastside on behalf of a former employee of the now-closed Short’s Burger and Shine in downtown Iowa City, who they claim is owed $20,000 in overtime compensation.


Grace Kreber

The Center for Worker Justice held a protest in front of the Eastside shorts at 12 p.m. on April 25, 2022.

Josie Fischels, Managing Editor

Around 30 protesters met in front of Short’s Burgers Eastside location on Monday on behalf of a former employee who claims that Short’s Burger and Shine in downtown Iowa City owes her 13 years of overtime compensation.

The “Protest Against Wage Theft,” organized by the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, is requesting a total of $20,000 be paid to the former employee by her former employer, Short’s co-owner Kevin Perez, who claims the total is “completely wrong.”

The center said the total includes when Perez allowed the employee, who asked to go by her first name Rita, to clock in a half hour early for shifts. Perez said he let her do so with the knowledge that he would not pay her overtime.

“All the overtime — I’m wrong, because I didn’t pay it — was because her bus let her off at 8:30 a.m. and she works 9 a.m. -5 p.m., so I said, ‘You can punch in if you want, but I’m not paying you overtime,’” he said at the protest. “Even though, legally, I should have said, ‘Sit there until 9’ o’clock and then punch in,’ but I didn’t want to waste her time, and so that’s what I did. It was wrong, and these are the numbers they’ve come up with.”

The center has recently ramped up its efforts to combat wage theft in Johnson County. In a letter sent to the Iowa City City Council and City Manager Geoff Fruin on April 18, the center proposed a five-year plan and a $322,755.81 budget to add a full-time wage theft organizer to the organization to enforce economic justice and educate employees and employers about worker rights.

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“Due to the pandemic, conditional and unanticipated working conditions have only intensified this matter and driven a great need for assistance in resolving wage theft cases, especially with low wage and marginalized workers,” the organization wrote in the letter.

The center said it attempted to contact Perez for several months to request Rita’s pay stubs dating back to 2008 to calculate the overtime Rita is owed. Perez said he has paid Rita for a little over 15 hours of overtime for 2020, 84 hours in 2021, and 108 hours in 2019, but other records — particularly those from over a decade ago — will be harder to come up with.

“I’m sure they don’t exist, they might in a box, somewhere. It’s hard to say,” he said at the protest.

Short’s Burger and Shine, which is an original, separate business from Short’s Burgers Eastside, closed earlier this month. The building was in need of repairs, Perez wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan, and he wrote that he does not want to borrow money to “put into a building and business that may not be there.”

At the protest, Perez repeated to members of the Center for Worker Justice, Teamsters Union, and the Iowa City Federation of Labor that “Short’s does not have any money.”

“My sales downtown are half from what they were five years ago,” he said at the protest.

Rita, who said through a translator that she had worked at Short’s for 13 years, claimed she had been continually mistreated as a restaurant employee.

“Due to the coronavirus, I remained the only worker, I worked for two years by myself, attending the entire restaurant,” she said. “So that was abuse too. I didn’t have a break, I didn’t have time to eat, I didn’t have time to even go to the bathroom because when it got busy, I became busy so I didn’t have time to do anything.”

Mazahir Salih, Center for Worker Justice executive director, told The Daily Iowan at the protest that money needs to be paid regardless of whether Perez has it or not.

“We know he was not paying overtime, and we think he needs to correct that,” Salih said. “You have to figure it out. This is not Rita’s problem because Short’s doesn’t have money.”

A meeting is currently being set up between the Center for Worker Justice and Perez, for which the center has requested Perez to provide all payroll records from 2008 to 2019.

“We hope today that [the protest] brings public attention to the issue and that our community allies and community members can also reach out to [Perez] and urge him to do the right thing,” Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa community Organizer Kaille Simmons told the DI. “We’re just hoping this ultimately, at least, ends up in a conversation where we can both sit down and come to a resolution about the issue.”

Emily Delgado contributed to this report.