Back Yard Burgers employees protest for back wages

CHARLOTTE -- Deborah Dunlap had just been given the keys to Back Yard Burgers in Rock Hill.

She was training to be a manager, and her first day opening the fast-food restaurant would have been July 23.

Instead, when she showed up to work that day, her keys didn't work and a sign on the store said the business was closed.

"I was so proud," the York woman said of getting keys to the store the Sunday before it closed. "Go in there Wednesday, can't get in."

Dunlap didn't like losing her job, but what frustrated her even more was not getting her final two paychecks. So she and more than a dozen former employees of the now-closed Rock Hill and Fort Mill eateries protested Friday at the Back Yard Burgers in the Ballantyne area of Charlotte.

Like Dunlap, other protesters said they're also owed paychecks.

"We made them their money," said Mark Hart, who was the general manager of the Rock Hill restaurant. "They need to give us ours."

Hart said he organized the protest after he couldn't get a response from the corporate office about the delayed paychecks.

"I don't wish them any ill will," he said of the stores' owner. "We just want our money. That's all."

The protest began shortly after 11 a.m., the time protesters expected business to pick up. They lined the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, some holding up signs that said, "I've made you your money," or "I want my check on a silver platter."

But the owner of the Rock Hill and Fort Mill restaurants blamed the protesters for the demise of their former workplace.

"The people that are out here are the ones who ran these stores into the ground for us," said Tom Miller, who owns the Ballantyne restaurant, the last of his seven Charlotte-area Back Yard Burgers that is still open.

Miller, who came to the protest, said the former employees will be paid as soon as money is available. Those who worked at the now-closed Back Yard Burgers in Concord, N.C., have already received their due wages, he said.

Miller opened the Fort Mill restaurant in 2005 and the Rock Hill one less than a year ago.

With his York County restaurants, Miller said he struggled to find "competent management." He claims that some managers spent money they weren't authorized to spend.

He doesn't plan to open those eateries again.

Miller also claims some employees lied on their job applications. More than half the protesters quit their jobs and not one called him about the stores closing, he said.

"They're out here just for spite," he said.

Protesters weren't buying Miller's allegations.

Markie Hobbs, an 18-year-old Winthrop University student, said she worked at the Fort Mill Back Yard Burgers for nearly three years and was a manager when the store suddenly closed.

Nearly all of the protesters, she said, didn't quit their jobs, but lost them when the restaurants closed.

"It's a wakeup call for them," she said of the stores' owner. "Hopefully, if they don't like it, they'll do what we want. Their customers will see they're not a very good business and they're not paying their employees."

Beverly Moorer, a mother of five who worked at the Fort Mill business, said she desperately needs her paychecks because she has mounting bills.

"It's hard as hell to find a job," she said.

Back Yard Burgers is headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., and has more the 170 restaurants, most of them in the Southeast, according to the company's Web site.

Attempts to reach a corporate spokesman over two days were unsuccessful.

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