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As Treasure Island closes stores, workers demand pay, threaten legal action

Former Treasure Island workers protest

Former Treasure Island workers protest in front of the chain's Lakeview location, demanding 60 days’ worth of wages and health insurance. | Pat Nabong/For The Sun-Times.

Angela Saverson is in a bit of a bind.

She was laid off from Treasure Island Foods in Hyde Park on Friday after two-and-a-half years with the company. Like many Americans, Saverson has little wiggle room to build up savings or cover an emergency.

The rent and all her bills are due Oct. 15, and Saverson doesn’t know how — or if — she’ll come up with the money.

“I’ve been living paycheck-to-paycheck for as long as I can remember,” she said. “What am I gonna tell my landlord? ComEd? People’s Gas?”

Saverson and two dozens of her fellow former Treasure Island workers held a short rally Monday morning at the company’s flagship store and headquarters in Lakeview to demand the company provide two months’ worth of pay and benefits, such as health care coverage, which they say they are owed under federal labor law.

The rally, organized by faith-based worker advocacy group Arise Chicago, called attention to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. Under the law, employers can’t order a “plant closing or mass layoff” until the end of a 60-day period after serving written notice to employees.

Workers at the rally alleged Treasure Island’s recent decision to close all seven stores constitutes a “plant closing.”

Sandra Roman, a Treasure Island worker for 22 years

Sandra Roman, a Treasure Island worker for 22 years, said, “Without notice, they let us go and didn’t even give us a paycheck.” | Pat Nabong/For The Sun-Times.

Jorge Mujica, an organizer with Arise Chicago, told those gathered for the rally that a class-action lawsuit against Treasure Island is being considered. An estimated 450 employees are affected by the closings, Mujica said.

Calls and emails to Arthur Stamas, Treasure Island’s attorney, were not returned. Treasure Island vice president Bob Zenawick also could not be reached for comment.

Mujica also told workers Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) planned to meet Tuesday night at her office in South Shore to discuss the closures and possible remedies for affected workers.

Denice Cantrell, who worked alongside Saverson at the Hyde Park location, also attended Monday. She said she planned to go to Hairston’s meeting but worried nothing would come of it.

“I don’t know if we’re going to get a fair shake,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell turned 60 earlier this year. She said it’s been hard finding another job that could help cover her mounting living costs. She hopes Treasure Island pays up.

“We’re being punished for something we didn’t do. We deserved better,” she said.

Treasure Island is clearing out the aisles this week as it hopes to liquidate all merchandise before closing its doors for good on Friday.

The Chicago grocery chain, which opened its first store in 1963, has already been hit with two lawsuits since abruptly telling its employees on Sept. 26 it would be permanently closing all of its stores within three weeks.

Former Treasure Island workers protest in Lakeview

Former Treasure Island workers hold a protest in front of the grocery store in Lakeview. | Pat Nabong/For The Sun-Times.

Anthony Marano Co., a produce wholesaler, sued Treasure Island last week for over more than $453,000 of allegedly unpaid produce.

A few days later, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s Local 1546 also sued the grocery chain for violating the WARN Act by firing its 28 members employed by the company without giving them proper notice. The union also alleges in the lawsuit that Treasure Island violated state law for not paying union members their unused paid vacation time.

Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, said Treasure Island should prioritize doing right by their employees first before concerning itself with other unpaid debts.

“Treasure Island workers are loyal. Many of them have served these stores for 10 years or more. It is shocking to learn that Treasure Island has left their workers stranded without notice,” she said. “We all know that the banks … and the vendors are going to line up with their hands out, but these workers are saying, ‘Pay the workers first.'”