By most accounts, the Jazz Age Lawn Party was a splendid event defined by twirling parasols and cloche hats and wide, red-rouged grins. Even the staff who catered the festival had a nice time, said Elric Martinez, one of the cooks employed by Jimmy's No. 43, which served food to the thousands of flapping masses who flooded Governor's Island over the weekend of August 17th.
But just as the euphoria of the 1920s gave way to the grip of the Depression, the weekend's luster wore off too—particularly for the 50 or so workers employed to cater the celebration, who were promised that they'd be compensated "quickly," and in cash. Three weeks later, they're still waiting for their money.
Martinez, who used to work in PR but now makes end meets working several part-time jobs—including as a cook at catered events as large as the U.S. Open—said typically cash payments are issued the same day, or at most, within a week. Often, he said, these type of gigs are staffed by students or workers who are underemployed—people who rely on the cash being available in enough time to make the month's rent and bills.
"They said it would be “quick,” he said. "I can even understand two weeks, at a certain point, even though there’s no payroll to run. But here we are at week three."
Martinez said he hadn't heard any word on his money at all until yesterday, when a Jimmy's No. 43 rep emailed him to say the festival's organizers had only just cut the restaurant the check it owed them, and that staff payments would be issued soon. But "soon" is not exactly comforting to Martinez.
"It’s a great event, that’s why I'm surprised to find myself in this situation," he said. "But at the same time you do really want to get paid promptly."
Jimmy Carbone, the owner of Jimmy's No. 43, said the workers would certainly be paid by early next week. Besides, he said, at $200 per day for cooks and $125 for food handlers, most workers couldn't have been doing it for the money.
"Pretty much everyone is doing it for fun—we're not trying to screw anybody," he said. "It's extra money for everybody—it's not like anyone is living off that money."
When pressed that perhaps people were living off that money, Carbone insisted his company does the event out of good will.
"Instead of asking for volunteers, we said 'We’ll pay you to work that day,'" he said. "I don’t think it's a scandal, I think it’s a misunderstanding."
Carbone said he'd alerted workers at the onset that it'd take them around two weeks to get paid—a time frame that should not come as a surprise to anyone in the business.
This news does not exactly thrill Martinez. "I'm sure he's not relying on the money he's making on that event," he fumed. "It's kind of a 'Let them eat cake' comment—it's not petty money to people. It's really kind of arrogant."
Update: Representatives with the Jazz Age Lawn Party sent the following statement, in attempt to explain the three week delay in payment:
All food workers are hired and paid directly by our contracted caterer, not us. It is the responsibility of our contracted caterer to pay their workers. Our caterer was paid in full, in person on August 22nd, the Friday after the Lawn Party. All other Jazz Age Lawn Party workers were mailed their checks on August 22nd.