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Union files labor complaint after Signature Room at former John Hancock closes abruptly

Former Signature Room workers file a complaint about lack of notice of closure
Former Signature Room workers file a complaint about lack of notice of closure 00:20

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago's hospitality workers' union filed a complaint in federal court Monday against the operators of the now-shuttered Signature Room restaurant at the former John Hancock Center.

UNITE HERE Local 1 accused Infusion Management Group Inc. of violating the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or the WARN Act, by closing abruptly. No notice was given to the 132 restaurant employees represented by UNITE HERE Local 1, the union said.

The WARN Act requires employers to provide 60-days' written notice of a closing or mass-layoff. It also requires employers to provide wages, insurance and pension benefits, life insurance premiums, and accrued holiday pay and vacation for 60 days after the workers lose their jobs, the union said.

The union is seeking back pay, benefits, and other relief for its workers.

The iconic Signature Room at the 95th restaurant near the top of the former John Hancock Center abruptly closed for good on Thursday of last week, citing "severe economic hardship."

The closing was announced to customers by owners Rick Roman and Nick Pyknis on a sign posted on the door near the elevators to the restaurant on the 95th and 96th floors at 875 N. Michigan Ave.

The Signature Room at the 95th, near the top of the former John Hancock Center, abruptly closed for good on Sept. 28, 2023. CBS

The Signature Room under its current name and incarnation opened in 1993. But there has been a restaurant in the space as long as the John Hancock Center has been open.

The restaurant was formerly known simply as the 95th Restaurant, and dated back to 1970. The Signature Lounge, that famous spot for a cocktail a floor up on the 96th floor, was previously called Images.

From anniversaries and engagements to college graduation night dinners with closest loved ones, there have been countless milestones and memories made at the Signature Room.

But rather than feeling nostalgia for times past, workers told CBS 2's Noel Brennan the closure felt like a slap in the face. They said they found out they'd lost their jobs in an early-morning email.

Assistant manager Michael Tyler-Smith was among those who lost his job. He said no one had time to prepare or process the email that came from management.

"Like, that's all? It came at 6 o'clock yesterday morning just saying, 'urgent information,'" Smith said Friday.

Smith said he never had a chance to say goodbye.

"It hurts. I had an amazing team," he said. "They're the ones who made the Signature Room. They're the ones who put their all, time, blood, sweat. Everyone that I've spoken to feels lost, feels hurt, confused."

The union noted that most of the terminated Signature Room employees who lost their jobs are people of color. They had worked as cooks, servers, bartenders, barbacks, concierges, housekeeping attendants, bussers, and expeditors, the union said.

A third of the terminated employees had worked at the restaurant for 15 years or more, and eight had been there since the beginning of the restaurant's run under the Signature Room name 30 years ago.

"What the Signature Room has done to these 132 restaurant workers is a disgrace and shows a complete disregard for the working people who cooked, served, and welcomed Chicagoans and the world. This restaurant is iconic not just for its views but because of the hard-working staff, many of whom dedicated decades of their lives to this place," Karen Kent, President of UNITE Here Local 1, said in a news release. "For the Signature Room operator to jettison these workers overnight is both immoral and illegal. The decimation of the Signature Room extends far beyond personal memories – it is a devastation to the families, futures, and lives of these restaurant workers. We will pursue every avenue to ensure Signature Room workers see justice served."

CBS 2 is reaching out to Infusion Management Group Inc. for comment.

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