Fans of longtime South Beach Cuban fixture David's Cafe were saddened when, in July, its Lincoln Road establishment closed its doors for good. For the restaurant's newly out-of-work employees, though, the closing wasn't a bittersweet moment or an unexpected blow. For them, David's could have closed half a year ago and it wouldn't have made a difference.
That's because the former workers -- servers, hosts, busboys and kitchen staff -- say they went the last five months of the restaurant's existence without a paycheck. The ex-employees allege that the restaurant's owners owe them nearly $80,000 total in back wages. What's worse, they say that the owners have been promising them the money for months, only to keep pushing back the pay day.
"They had no intention to pay us," says Evilio Dasilva, who worked at David's Cafe II as a waiter for six years. "They were dragging it out."
The owners of David's Cafe did not respond to a request for comment.
The workers haven't gone down quietly, though. For the last two weeks, they've gathered in front of David's Cafe's original location on Collins Ave. and 11th St. to protest. Waving signs and cheering for every honk they get from passing cars, they hope to draw attention to their plight.
So far, no one's been able to come to their help. The workers took their dispute to the Federal Department of Labor, asking them to mediate. The department wrote back to say that, while they felt the workers were in the right, there weren't resources available to help them pursue the case, according to Dasilva.
There's been better luck with local officials, though. Dasilva tells Riptide that both the Miami-Dade County Commission, through Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, and the Miami Beach city government are looking to step in and help them get paid.
According to the former David's Cafe II employees, the dispute over wages began earlier this year, when the owners stopped cutting them checks. For weeks, Dasilva says, management promised them their money, even admitting that they were behind on the payments. But those conversations dragged on with no resolution.
"They said they were sorry, but they couldn't pay us and we had to wait," Dasilva says. He adds that the owners never gave a timeframe as to payment.
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Furthermore, instead of paying workers, Dasilva says that the restaurant owners tried to deny payment by questioning whether the employees were legal residents of the country. That despite the fact that, as Dasilva points out, immigration status has no bearing on whether or not the restaurant should pay the money owed. He also says that these same possibly illegal employees have been working at David's Cafe for years with management approval.
For now, the impasse remains. Dasilva says that the restaurant's owners have not spoken with the protesting employees in the last few weeks. But he's hopeful that, with city officials now involved, there can be a resolution soon. Until then, the employees will be in front of David's Cafe I every Tuesday and during weekends to make their voices heard.