UPDATED: Worker aid and supermarket replacement discussed at public meeting on Treasure Island closing
By AARON GETTINGER
At Ald. Leslie Hairston’s meeting on the closing of Treasure Island Tuesday night, a wide array of issues emerged. Local residents asked University of Chicago representatives about a new tenant in the Hyde Park Shopping Center and an attorney asked laid-off employees to join her class action lawsuit. Plans were drawn up for an ad hoc career fair this Saturday, Oct. 13 from 10 a.m. to noon in the Shoreland Apartments lobby, 5454 S. Shore Drive.
Treasure Island closed on Monday, Oct. 8, less than two weeks after employees were notified they were about to lose their jobs. Hairston (5th) called the lay-offs unacceptable.
“When a company makes a decision [to close], it’s always terrible to the people because it impacts everyone,” she said. “It impacts the workers; it impacts the community; it impacts everything. But when they do it in a way that is disrespectful and hurtful, I think that’s when we, as a community, come together.”
Tonia Herrera took a job at Treasure Island after seven years managing a Dunkin’ Donuts; she said the Hyde Park workers were notified of the closure a day after the chain’s other employees — done, she said, at management’s discretion to prevent an employee walk-out — and that they have been told to expect their last paychecks via the mail. Herrera said she wants to be compensated for the time she has been off work.
“The last paycheck I got went to first month’s rent,” said Ariel Williams, another laid-off worker. Her next check, which was supposed to be given out two weeks later, was for groceries.
“Where’s that check? I don’t know,” she said. “Am I ever going to get it? I don’t know.”
Hairston said she had not been able to contact Treasure Island Corporate officials during the closings; neither has the Herald over the past weeks.
Attorney Karen Engelhardt said that ex-employees probably had standing to sue as a class of non-union Treasure Island workers under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) that mandates workers be notified 60 days in advance of mass termination. Engelhardt also said the workers had not been paid for the paid time off they accrued.
Engelhardt said the question of where the former chain’s money is will not likely come out until a lawsuit moves forward, but she has no expectations, adding that Treasure Island is not in bankruptcy. Since neither the Kamberos family, who owned Treasure Island, nor High Ridge Partners, the assignee for the benefit of creditors which now controls Treasure Island’s assets and is tasked to pay its bills, has responded to repeated attempts to contact them, Engelhardt said she was ready and willing to move forward with litigation.
Phaedra Leslie, the director of business relations and economic development for the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership government-affiliated job training and business services nonprofit, said her team would have worked with Treasure Island laid-off employees had a WARN notice been issued. She provided information about job opportunities and career fairs to ex-Treasure Island workers in attendance, soliciting contact information for future services from government agencies and referring them to the nearest American Job Center at 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Room 209 (773-538-5627).
Representatives from Aramark and Mac Properties said their businesses have employment opportunities as well. At Hairston’s prompting, Arise Chicago, the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Mac Properties and the University of Chicago agreed to the Saturday morning hospitality job and resource fair for laid-off employees.
U. of C. Vice President of Civic Engagement Derek Douglas echoed earlier communication from the University, saying the university heard of Treasure Island’s impending closure at the same time as the public and that they were caught off guard.
“As soon as we got the news, we knew that we needed to be working diligently on trying to find a replacement store, because we know how important having that amenity in the community is,” he said, adding the U. of C. is committed to finding a “long-term, sustainable” grocer.
Angie Marks, the head of the U. of C. real estate operations group, said the Hyde Park Credit Union housed in the basement of the former Treasure Island store, would remain open during the transition. Wendy Williams, the U. of C. executive director of community partnerships, confirmed that the 5th Ward’s 24th Precinct polling place would continue to be in the basement as well.
Marks said these first weeks post-closure are about “casting a wide net” to gauge which supermarket chains may be interested in opening at the Shopping Center. She stressed the long-term commitment of any lease — tenants tend to commit to rent spaces for 10 to 20 years — and said that the ultimately timeframe will depend on how quickly a new tenant is identified as well as how quickly they move forward with the process of permitting and construction before opening.
She confirmed that Treasure Island did break its lease with the U. of C., which owns the Hyde Park Shopping Center, but declined to say if the supermarket was current on its rent or how much it were paying for the 50,000-square-foot space.
The U. of C. representatives said updates would be posted regularly to their 53rd Street Blog, voices.uchicago.edu/fiftythird; Douglas said there would be ways for the public to submit comment there as well.