Crabby wait staff to finally get their tips

FILE PHOTO
FILE PHOTO
Posted: June 17, 2014

I ASK Lou Pechman how it'll feel to make a lot of people happy today.

"I'm just doing my job," says Pechman, the New York lawyer who helped Chickie's & Pete's restaurant employees recover scads of dollars in tips they've been owed for years. "We're talking a lot of money, so it's something I want to do in person."

Today, Pechman will travel to Philly to hand-deliver checks to 90 workers who, in a federal suit, accused Chickie's & Pete's owner, Pete Ciarrocchi, of improperly helping himself to a portion of their tips.

Back in February, Ciarrocchi settled the suit for $1.68 million. The same day, he settled a similar suit for $6.6 million with the U.S. Department of Labor on behalf of an additional 1,100-plus employees.

Although the latter settlement is still being processed, the smaller federal one is complete. Hence Pechman's satisfying task of handing out checks to 90 current and former stiffed employees. The amounts range from about $1,200 to $45,000-plus.

That sound you just heard was your eyes popping.

It's important to note that only a portion of the funds represent tips that should've gone to Chickie's & Pete's employees. The rest represents the hefty settlement Ciarrocchi made with the government for having gotten "confused," as he has said, by the complicated tip-distribution rules in the first place.

As a result, most Chickie's & Pete's workers are receiving more money in the settlement than they would've earned had Ciarrocchi correctly followed the federal regulations.

Maybe Ciarrocchi should rename his restaurant "Cha- ching! & Pete's."

Anyway, cashing a check sure is a pretty excellent way for the workers to kick off the summer - or to pay off a swimming-pool heater. That's what one former waitress will do with part of the $11,771 she's pocketing in the settlement.

"I already bought the heater, which I probably shouldn't have done, except I knew the check was coming," says the woman, who also will start a savings account for her new baby. Like other former and current Chickie's & Pete's employees interviewed for this column, she asked not to be identified, because it's probably not smart to go public about coming into money. Lord knows the weirdos who'd emerge from the weeds for a handout.

She's glad for the cash, the woman says, "but it's a shame we needed a lawsuit to get it."

Another worker, a former Chickie's & Pete's bartender who also will collect a little more than $11,000, says he is "really relieved that this long ordeal is over" - not that he ever doubted it would end in the workers' favor.

"I saw what was going on" during the two years he worked at the restaurant, he says. He credits the indefatigable workers at the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Center, an advocacy organization, for bringing it to the attention of the Department of Labor. "I knew it was only a matter of time before things got resolved."

As for celebrating, he will "maybe party a little bit" with other former employees, but has no crazy plans for the settlement proceeds. "I don't really see this as money I can go out and throw around. This is money I should've had all along. I've needed it."

Still, he says, he knows some single moms at Chickie's & Pete's who are in less-stable financial shape than he is, so he's glad the settlement will give them some breathing room.

That ought to make Ciarrocchi happy.

"Pete said from the beginning that he wanted to do the right thing by our employees so that we can move forward together," says Ciarrocchi's spokesman, Kevin Feeley. "He believes that his employees are the backbone of the company's success. gives us the chance to close the book on this matter, so that together we can get back to business."

Fair enough, says Pechman, who runs a website called WaiterPay.com and has more than 100 cases nationwide against employers for - knowingly or not - messing with their workers' paychecks.

"The clients are ecstatic. They are receiving very meaningful compensation," Pechman says. "I know Pete got bashed because of this, but the fact is, he stepped up to the plate and paid everything that was owed - and more.

"We're grateful that both the restaurant and the workers can put this behind them."

Check, please.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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