Commentary

Saunders: Wing restaurant’s workers say inconsistent paychecks just won’t fly

bsaunders@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2014 

Ever had to try to make it on a wing and a prayer? Literally?

I talked to people recently who insist that is not just a cliche, but their reality.

Some employees at Wingtastic on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh told me they haven’t been paid consistently in months. Scratch that: They’ve received checks from the owners of the restaurant, but they said some of those are still bouncing down the street like a runaway, over-inflated basketball.

Joy Morrison, co-owner with her husband of the restaurant, disputed the account given by one current employee and a former employee. “Nobody is not getting paid,” Morrison said Monday.

“Every employee up to this point is getting paid,” her husband, Mark Morrison, added, “or is in the process of getting paid.”

‘Some disruptions’

The Morrisons acknowledged problems with a new payroll system that was implemented when the company changed names months ago and went to a new point-of-sale system. Employees, he said, “were told upfront that there’d be some disruptions.”

Some employees chose to quit at that point, he said. Others stayed.

Driver Daniel Wilson stayed. Last week he showed me several uncashed or returned payroll checks and charges to his bank account for depositing insufficiently funded checks.

Why, you ask, would someone keep punching a clock that they doubt will yield pay?

“If I do quit,” Wilson said, “I’m like 90 percent sure I’m never going to get my money.” An employee at the N.C. Department of Labor confirmed that Wilson filed a claim for wages he feels are owed him.

Wilson considers himself the luckiest of the company’s employees because, as a driver, he said, “I get money in my pocket every night” from tips. He estimated that he takes home between $27 and, on a really good night, $100 in tips from people thrilled to see the wing delivery man at their door.

Wilson, 20, considers himself lucky for another reason, too. The N.C. State University student said, “I live in a dorm and don’t have to worry about paying rent. … But no one can live off tips.”

‘What on earth?’

Shawn Prince, Wilson’s co-worker – oops, make that his former co-worker: He quit the day I talked to him – didn’t even get tips to not live off. Cooks seldom get tipped, regardless of how sublime their special sauce.

“They’d issue us payroll checks,” Prince said. “I was going to the check-cashing place on payday … but they started calling us and telling us there was no money in the account. We’d say, ‘What on earth?’ 

Prince, 26, said he worked at Wingtastic for nine months and is still owed at least three paychecks. “I was hanging on with hopes of getting paid. I know people who quit and still haven’t gotten paid,” he said. “It’s very depressing.”

No doubt it’s depressing for his former employers, too. Mark Morrison said, “We’re not trying to rip anybody off. We’re struggling as a business. … We feel terrible, but we’re making it right.”

As a former business owner who has seen two ventures go belly up, I know that the road to the poor house or unemployment line is paved with good intentions – and bounced checks.

To quote a Bible verse – I think it’s from the book of Harlan (Sanders, that is): “Verily I say unto you. Man does not live by wings alone.”

Even if man did, the infrequently paid employees at Wingtastic said they’d have to pay for them. They get a half-price employee discount, they said, but they still are supposed to pay.

Wilson, a conscientious communications major, is the kind of employee any company wants to have, and if he finally quits the wing business, can get.

You’ll have to pay him, though, because not even college kids can live on a wing and a prayer forever.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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