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HomeNewsArchivesUnion President, KFC Owners Differ Over Details of Restaurant's Closure

Union President, KFC Owners Differ Over Details of Restaurant's Closure

Oct. 31, 2006 — About 20 people will be out of a job, and St. Thomas residents will have to visit another KFC branch for their bucket of fried chicken since the KFC at Buccaneer Mall closed its doors Oct. 26.
Juan Mujica, vice president of operations for KFC operator Kazi Foods, said in a news release that a steep rent increase forced the company to terminate operations.
"The rent on this particular restaurant is more than four times that of some of our other restaurants on St. Thomas," he said, adding that the company attempted to negotiate with the landlord but could not come to an agreement. He said the lease expires in a few weeks.
St. Thomas attorney Tom Bolt, who represents Kazi Foods, said the workers were notified orally some months ago as to the upcoming closure. According to Bolt, workers were notified in writing in October that a decision was made to close the restaurant.
The V.I. Workers Union represents the laid-off KFC workers. Charlesworth Nicholas, the union's president, saw the situation differently than Mujica and Bolt.
Nicholas said that after hearing rumors that a closure was coming, he asked Bolt on July 27 about the situation. He said Bolt denied the rumors.
According to Nicholas, employees were subsequently informed that the restaurant would close Dec. 31.
Nicholas said he received a letter announcing the Oct. 26 closure just two days before the restaurant shut its doors.
He said that company officials sent the employees home Oct. 26.
"They threw all the chicken away. They didn't even give employees dinner," Nicholas said.
He said the union filed an unfair labor practice grievance with the National Labor Relations Bureau because the employees did not receive proper notification about the closure.
According to Bolt, the union refused to negotiate on a severance benefits package after Kazi declined to turn over audited financial records. He said the union wanted audited records for 2005 and 2006; however, Kazi only took over ownership of the company in March.
"And it's irrelevant," Bolt said.
He said the workers will get a severance package that includes more than two weeks pay, unemployment insurance information, job placement counseling and training opportunities.
"We believe we have identified jobs for each of the displaced employees," Mujica said.
Bolt said the company contacted restaurants like McDonalds, Subway and IHOP. "We gave them a list of all the places looking for people," Bolt said, referring to the workers.
However, Nicholas said only the managers were offered jobs.
Bolt said the company is working closely with the V.I. Labor Department to ensure that workers who need to collect unemployment benefits can do so in a timely manner.
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