Bonita Springs movie employees claim they haven't been paid, doubt theater's future

Prado Cinema Cafe

25251 Chamber of Commerce Drive, Bonita Springs, FL

— Film screens at Bonita Springs’ Cinema Café theater have been dark since Sunday night.

Some theater employees say they are also in the dark about whether the theater will reopen or if they will get paid wages they are owed for the past few weeks.

Three Cinema Café employees said Tuesday they had not been paid in at least three weeks, some as many as five.

Assistant manager Joe Lopez, 24, says he is owed about $1,000 from the theater for the time he has worked, but he doubts the theater will open or that he and his coworkers will see the money they earned. A sign on the theater on Monday indicated the theater would reopen Wednesday.

“To be perfectly honest,” said Lopez. “I doubt 100 percent that it’s reopening.”

Lopez called theater management’s treatment of the employees “an injustice.”

Lopez said he and other employees, who just wanted to hold down a job and work, have been “taken advantage of.” He said with the economy so bad, it’s hard for people his age to find employment, even though he graduated from Full Sail University with an associate degree in recording arts.

“We had a job,” he said. “We didn’t want to lose that, and they felt (they) could hang it over our heads until they felt like they couldn’t use us anymore.”

The Daily News has been unable to confirm with theater management when employees were last paid and whether the theater would open again. Managing director Jim Record declined to comment about Cinema Café on Tuesday.

However, employees say there are other indications signaling the theater would not reopen at all.

Cinema Café, located at the Prado shopping center off U.S. 41, opened its doors in August.

Signs of trouble for the theater showed up early with low patron turnout, according to a Daily News article posted on on Oct. 7.

For some young employees struggling to find another job, the theaters opening was, at first, a relief.

After weeks of job-hunting over the summer, Alissa Brazelton, 20, said she was hired on the spot to work the box office when the multiplex first opened.

Her first paycheck was a week late, she said, and the second one never came.

At a staff meeting, Brazelton said she was told the owner of Cinema Café could not afford to pay all of the employees. They were told to wait a few weeks, she said.

“Weeks went by and we still hadn’t heard anything,” Brazelton said.

Lopez said he was trying to be understanding as his boss, Record, asked staff to be patient.

Brazelton said she expected things to get better in the fall when seasonal residents began trickling down.

“We knew there would be kinks,” Lopez said, “but everyone wanted it to succeed. So we stuck it out.”

Then on Sunday, Brazelton said Record told staff that the theater was going to be closed for a few days because of “problems with projectors.”

Kenny Hartman, a 19-year-old concessions clerk, said he and other employees were ordered to clear the concessions window of food and condiments.

Hartman, the son of Daily News sports copy editor Ron Hartman, said employees were encouraged to take home food from the concession stand.

He made off with some candy, desserts and salad dressing. Others, he said, took home beer and wine.

He said he found it most curious that management asked them to throw away even non-perishable items like plastic forks and knives, which could have been reused when the theater reopened.

By Brazelton’s estimate Cinema Café owes her $400 and Kenny Hartman thinks he is owed about $350 from the $8 per hour they were making. Lopez says others are owed much more.

Lopez said that after talking with other coworkers, a lot of them are feeling helpless.

“We have to sit there and take the punch on the chin,” he said.

That’s why Lopez is trying to gather employees to the theater on Wednesday at 5 p.m., when they were told the theater would reopen.

He said there would be some sort of demonstration regarding the delinquency of their paychecks. If given the opportunity, he said, he’ll share his story with the public.

© 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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