Plucky Protester

Ex-employee takes protest to the streets outside Old Warsaw restaurant

Ex-employee takes protest to the streets outside Old Warsaw restaurant

Michelle Charkowicz striking outside Old Warsaw
Michelle Charkowicz stands up for what she believes in. Photo by Teresa Gubbins

UPDATE: Al Heidari called to offer his perspective on the dispute with Charkowicz.

"She worked here on Tuesday last week," he says. "I told her I would pay her $12 an hour. We were not busy at the restaurant and we had a wedding going on at the Maple Manor hotel. I knew there would be a big tip involved. She had a worried look on her face that she would not make $12. I told her I would guarantee she would make $12 an hour. I said, 'If you work there and do not make $12 an hour, I'll make up the difference to you.' She said, 'OK, I'll do it.'

"She worked that day with one other person, and they made $175 cash. And then we needed help at the Kennedy Room, so she went to work there. She made $122 in credit card tips. Then she came to me and said she wanted $12 an hour. I reminded her that I would cover it if she did not make it in tips. But she was still asking me for the money. She used the F word. She said, 'Do you know, I'm a fucking teacher, and I know how to do this.' She also said she had worked Monday, but she never worked here.

"I've been at Old Warsaw for 29 years. What do I want to do, get money from her? But I cannot pay someone money that I don't owe."

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Dallas isn't ordinarily a striking kind of town, but that's not stopping Michelle Charkowicz, a restaurant worker who's conducting a one-woman campaign for a better work environment.

Charkowicz, 27, was a hostess at Old Warsaw restaurant and a bartender at the Kennedy Room, both owned by longtime restaurateur Al Heidari. She's been standing outside Old Warsaw this week, through sunshine and rain and the pelting of a sprinkler system; she's striking over unfair compensation.

"I resigned due to unsatisfactory working conditions, and he's retaliating by not compensating me fairly," she says.

According to Charkowicz, she worked for Heidari from July 15 to August 4, and she gave her notice on August 5. "I don't know if I should get into the details, but it was because of poor working conditions," she says. "I was never paid. When I came in to get my paycheck, I discovered that I'd been severely docked for no reason, and he refused to show me my timecard.

"I asked about my check, and he's trying to say that I made tips, and he's taking those tips out of my hourly wage," she says. "It doesn't add up, and it’s not legal."

While Charkowicz was asking about her paycheck, she parked in the gated lot where she'd previously parked as an employee. When she came out, she discovered that two of her tires had been slashed. She had to have her car towed.

"He didn't ask me to move my car," she says. "I'm lucky that the police department stayed with me so I could take my vehicle."

Another former employee who asked not to be named said they'd been through the same experience but chose not to expend the time or energy to pursue it.

"He hires these people to work at events and tells them they'll be paid in cash," the ex-employee says. "Then at the end of the night, he says he'll pay them later in the week. But he never does."

The former employee says they were never paid in salary, only in tips. "I kept a record of when I clocked in, but that's all I had to show for what I had worked — either that or else customers who would see me," the employee says.

Heidari did not respond to calls for comment.

Charkowicz is a kindergarten teacher who is moving to Oregon in September. She took the job as a transitional way to make money, and now she has all the time in the world to pursue this.

"I want to get my money back, but I'm also fed up that he thinks he can walk all over people and they'll put up with it," she says. "I'm in a unique situation that I can come out here and stand up. Hopefully it might protect somebody in the future."