EVERY NIGHT after work, Andrew Laplante claims, he got pinched by his bosses at Chickie's and Pete's and it really hurt . . . his wallet.
Laplante worked as a bartender for nearly three years at Chickie's and Pete's in the airport and claims in a federal lawsuit he filed last week that he and other employees were forced to pay the bar 2 percent of their total credit-card receipts, in cash, after closing.
This was known as the "Pete Tax" among some employees, the lawsuit alleges, and Laplante's attorneys say the practice violates federal, state, and city wage laws. A spokesman for the restaurant, Kevin Feeley, confirmed that the department is investigating Chickie's and Pete's, but he declined to elaborate.
Pete Ciarrocchi, owner of Chickie's and Pete's issued a statement saying he believes "our policies are fair."
"Anybody who knows me knows that at Chickie's and Pete's, we've always tried to do the right thing by our employees. We treat people fairly and with respect," Ciarrocchi said.
Feeley said he believes that the lawsuit and the Department of Labor investigation deal with the same issue.
"We are keenly aware of that, and the company is fully cooperating," Feeley said of the investigation.
According to the lawsuit, the "Pete Tax" would often reach $60 to $75, sometimes resulting in a 10 percent loss of the employee's wages during the shift. Managers would collect the cash after the shift, the lawsuit alleges, and someone from a corporate office would pick up the money once a week. The "tax" was not optional or voluntary, the lawsuit contends.
Laplante's attorney, Lou Pechman, said the alleged "tip-out scheme" violated minimum-wage law. Philadelphia's gratuity-protection bill, according to the lawsuit, offered employees even more protection, forbidding employers from skimming employees' credit-card gratuities to pay processing fees.
"The restaurant industry has a history of cheating workers out of pay they are entitled to under the law," said Pechman, who runs the website waiterpay.com. "Waiters live off of their tips, and there are strict prohibitions in the law against owners skimming tips from the waitstaff."