Restaurant Asks Court to Settle Dispute With City

Emma Schwartz covers labor. E-mail her at [email protected].

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A Berkeley Marina restaurant is asking a federal court to halt the city's move to force it to raise employee wages.

Skates on the Bay owners filed papers at U.S. District Court in San Francisco in an effort to prevent the city from evicting the restaurant.

Skates was ordered Wednesday to comply with the city's Living Wage Ordinance within seven days or risk eviction. The city also told Skates to give employees two years of back-pay that they would have earned under the wage law.

The ordinance, approved by the City Council in September 2000, requires businesses at the city-owned Marina to pay workers $11.37 an hour or $9.75 an hour with health benefits.

Skates sued the city soon after, calling the law unconstitutional. Though the restaurant lost the case in court, it is appealing the decision.

Carol Miller, a lawyer for Seattle-based RUI corporation, which owns the restaurant, said the law changes their lease agreement.

City and company officials renegotiated the lease-which expires in 2018-when RUI underwent corporate restructuring in 1996.

The law is enforced when the city receives complaints from an employee. Businesses with unionized workers automatically comply.

"We don't do checks individually," said City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque. "We rely on private enforcement."

The city received a complaint from only one source-Skates employees.

"We are the only entity they seem to have asked (about compliance with the ordinance)," Miller said.

Skates, a 160-employee restaurant, paid the city $187,637 in 2001 for rent, Albuquerque said.

They also pay rent to the Berkeley Marina Associates, the partnership which owns the building.

Other Marina-based businesses, including the Radisson Hotel's restaurant and H's Lordships, pay the city similar levels of rent, said Ed Murphy, a city official.

"We're not changing any terms of the lease," Albuquerque said. "This is simply a law that applies to them because they are on city land."

Compliance with the law would primarily affect assistant hosts, dishwashers and entry people because most employees earn more than minimum wage, Miller said.

RUI has set aside $260,000 to pay back wages to its employees, but if the city terminates the lease, they would lose their jobs, Miller said.

"We would all want to make $11.37 an hour, but I don't think (the city) should force (Skates)," said Shon Jones, a Skates server.


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