Ex-Bonchon workers celebrate settlement over alleged wage theft in Dinkytown

The workers addressed alleged wage theft at Bonchon’s Uptown location.

Erin Lynch of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota announces a recent settlement for alleged stolen wages outside of Bonchon in Dinkytown on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

Liam Armstrong

Erin Lynch of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota announces a recent settlement for alleged stolen wages outside of Bonchon in Dinkytown on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

by Brooke Sheehy

Former Bonchon franchise employees and advocates gathered Tuesday evening in front of the newly opened Dinkytown location to announce a recent settlement for allegedly stolen wages.  

At the press conference, the former employees detailed allegations of wage theft at Bonchon’s Uptown location, including paying workers under the minimum wage and withholding a large portion of tips. Employees came forward with these allegations last December. 

The ex-Bonchon workers partnered with Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota to put public pressure on the restaurant to repay alleged stolen wages. 

Many workers also filed complaints of withheld tips and minimum wage violations with both the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. 

A rally on May 7 outside of Bonchon’s Uptown location and the attention it brought helped compel the franchise to compensate workers for a partial amount of what they owed and publicly respond on their Facebook page, according to an ROC press release.  

Toward the end of this past summer, the City of Minneapolis Labor Standards Enforcement Division, alongside Bonchon’s legal representative, reached a final settlement. 

“We are here today to celebrate a victory in the restaurant industry,” said ROC volunteer Erin Lynch. 

Lynch said that while the franchise was withholding wages from their employees, they were using that money to open a new franchise in Dinkytown. 

“Thank goodness we had a victory because that means workers at [the Dinkytown] location are now being paid the minimum wage … are being granted paid sick time off … and they have a better workplace,” Lynch said. 

R. Henry Pfutzenreuter, attorney for Sam Zheng, the owner of Bonchon Uptown, previously told the Minnesota Daily that the minimum wage issues stemmed from a misunderstanding on Zheng’s part about the city’s two minimum wages: one for small businesses and one for large businesses. 

Former Bonchon employees Mya Bradford and Sharon Record said they were unaware of labor movements and their rights as workers at the time. Bradford and Record said they felt something was wrong with their abnormally low hourly wages and the way their tips were distributed. But, as their first jobs in the restaurant industry, they thought that was “just how it is.” 

“We were not valued for our hard work, and [Bonchon] didn’t respect our basic rights,” Bradford said. “Everyone has hardships in life, but you don’t have to deal with them alone. If we come together we can win.”

Bradford, trying to pay her way through school, said that she wasn’t familiar enough with labor laws to know her wages were too low. She alleges a portion of her tips were withheld, but that she didn’t realize it until the settlement. 

“When you have a child and when you have a college career that you are trying to pursue, it is hard to do when you are being taken advantage of and not knowing that you are,” Bradford said. 

Bradford, Lynch and Record said that it is important for all workers, no matter the industry, to educate themselves on their legal rights, recognize when they are being taken advantage of and seek help to be able to stand up for themselves and all workers.

A state law that went into effect Aug. 1 made wage theft, including minimum wage violations, a felony. 

“Today we are standing up to say that our fights and our wins are not about individual restaurants and locations, but the rights of all working people throughout the Twin Cities,” Lynch said.