Current Naty's Pizza employee Asael Espinosa and former employee Santos Nava stand with a sign outside the restaurant at 5129 S. Kedzie Ave. during a press conference Oct. 19, 2022. Credit: Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago

GAGE PARK — Current and former employees at a Gage Park pizzeria are suing the business, saying it didn’t pay them fairly for hourly work, overtime and expenses.

Workers from Naty’s Pizza, 5129 S. Kedzie Ave., were joined by members of local workers rights organization Arise Chicago and attorney Karen Engelhardt for a Wednesday news conference outside the pizzeria to bring awareness to their lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims Naty’s Pizza violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act and the Chicago Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave Act by not paying employees a minimum wage, not paying them overtime and not fairly reimbursing their expenses.

Current and former Naty’s Pizza employees, members of Arise Chicago and other supporters gathered for a press conference outside the restaurant at 5129 S. Kedzie Ave. Oct. 19, 2022. Credit: Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago

Asael Espinosa, who’s worked at Naty’s Pizza for more than 10 years, said he stocks merchandise, cleans and does snow removal in addition to making deliveries, and he can sometimes work up to 14 hours.

Because Espinosa is wrongly considered an independent contractor, he is paid a flat fee for each delivery and isn’t paid for the hourly work he’s required to do outside of that, he said. For the past six months, his delivery pay has been $4 per delivery, but for years prior it was $3, he said.

“They are putting us to work,” Espinosa, 46, said in Spanish. “In the 14 hours we’re working, we don’t receive any compensation besides the cost of deliveries we make. We’re here exercising our rights, demanding they pay us in accordance with the law.”

Espinosa said he still works at Naty’s Pizza because he has a family to support, including his teenage son.

“It makes me happy my son’s here to support me,” Espinosa said. “He’s seen when we didn’t have weekends to spend together as a family because I had to work.”

Asael Espinosa’s son attended the press conference to support his father and the other employees involved in the lawsuit against Naty’s Pizza. Credit: Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago

Naty’s Pizza owner Abel Rodriguez couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. His daughter, who works at the restaurant, told Block Club the complaints are unfounded and they hope to prove that in court.

There are two other locations of Naty’s Pizza in Chicago, which are owned by different people and aren’t connected to the lawsuit.

Former Naty’s Pizza employee Santos Nava, 65, said he also hopes the legal action will address a lack of fair gas reimbursement.

Drivers are given a daily, flat rate of $15 for gas reimbursement instead of compensation equal to how far they actually drove, Nava said.

Even though drivers often drove 80-100 miles daily, Naty’s Pizza paid them “far less than the standard reimbursement rate provided by the IRS of $62.5 cents per mile,” according to the lawsuit.

Nava, who worked at Naty’s for three years beginning September 2019, said he tried to talk to his boss twice about getting more for his gas reimbursement, but he was always told no.

Engelhardt, the workers’ attorney, said she hasn’t been able to calculate exactly how much is owed to the four current and former employees, but it’s at least in the thousands.

“The law is very serious that employees should be paid properly, and, in this case, employees were not,” she said.

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