Fast-food workers vow to picket former employer

April 29, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Former employees of L. B. Griller's in Glen Burnie say they are fed up with being lied to and have vowed to picket the fast-food restaurant owner they say owes them money.

Since Jan. 17, when the former Rax restaurant on Aquahart Road abruptly closed its doors, 18 former employees said they have not seen a penny of the money owed them for their last two to three weeks of work.

Despite repeated promises from owner Lawrence A. Barto, president of Cumberland Restaurant Corp., former manager Marvin Davis said none of the employees has received anything. "I think he has no intention to pay anyone," said Mr. Davis, who is owed about $1,200 and is still out of work. "It hurt a lot of people when he cut them off like that, lied to them and said their money is in the mail. Some folks faced eviction and other problems because their checks bounced."

Several days after the restaurant closed, employees received letters from Mr. Barto saying they would receive their money in installments, but that has not happened.

Mr. Barto, who still owns one remaining L. B. Griller's in North Plaza Mall in Baltimore County, could not be reached for comment.

To increase the pressure on Mr. Barto, former employees are organizing a protest outside the North Plaza Mall.

"We're shooting for Mother's Day," said Mr. Davis, adding that a half-dozen employees are helping organize the demonstration, including workers from L. B. Griller's in Hagerstown and Frederick, which also were shut down without all paychecks covered.

Lillian Gange, a former employee at the Glen Burnie restaurant, said she has filed a claim against Mr. Barto in Small Claims Court and is scheduled to have her case heard in Glen Burnie District Court on May 18.

Cumberland Restaurant Corp.'s financial troubles started several years ago. Cumberland was formed in 1978 to own and run five Rax Restaurant franchises in Maryland and generated profits until 1989. But sales dropped in 1990, as the recession hit and Rax pulled corporate support from franchises in Maryland, U.S. Bankruptcy Court records show.

Mr. Barto bought the business in December 1990, launching a new advertising campaign, cutting operating costs, laying off managers and pumping in $60,000. But in December 1991, Cumberland filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, listing assets of $104,759 and debts of $533,148, including unpaid taxes to the Internal Revenue Service and the state.

In May 1992, Cumberland ended its franchise agreements with Rax and became L. B. Griller's.

Cumberland filed a reorganization plan with the court in July, intending to pay creditors from the four remaining restaurants' incomes. The company tried until February to keep the Glen Burnie, Frederick and Hagerstown restaurants open, but "current financial circumstances have made that restructuring impossible," Mr. Barto wrote to employees several days after the closing.

"I am accepting the responsibility to take whatever steps on behalf of the corporation that are necessary to see that your wages are paid," Mr. Barto wrote. "Unfortunately, payment in full of all payroll is impossible as of this time."

Follow-up letters to employees said workers would be paid in increments over five months.

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