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Tilman Fertitta Calls Furloughs a ‘Favor’ to His 40,000 Out-of-Work Employees

Apparently, the billionaire restaurateur laid off staff so they’d be “first to the unemployment line”

Phoenix Suns v Houston Rockets
Tilman Fertitta
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

In a television interview over the weekend, restaurateur and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta defended his recent decision to furlough workers across his hospitality empire, calling it a “favor” to the tens of thousands of employees who are now temporarily out of work.

Speaking with Fox News host Brian Kilmeade last Friday, Fertitta said that the move was intended to ensure that his employees would be able to access unemployment benefits.“You’re doing the people a favor if you get them furloughed first because you have them first to unemployment line after the severance that you give them,” Fertitta said. “It’s a trick that I’ve learned many years ago.”

Fertitta’s reasoning here is a little bit specious, especially considering how many Texans have struggled endlessly with applying for unemployment as the state’s systems were overloaded by a crush of unemployment claims. As the Texas Tribune reported, some people seeking unemployment have spent hours trying to file their claims, calling the Texas Workforce Commission’s hotline more than 200 times without being able to get through.

It’s also unclear what kind of severance pay Fertitta’s company paid out to the 40,000 employees furloughed from their jobs at his hundreds of restaurants, casinos, and hotels across the country, including at Houston spots like the Post Oak Hotel. Eater has reached out to a rep for Fertitta for more details on what those severance packages entailed, and will update this post as new information becomes available.

Times are apparently tough for Fertitta, who is currently seeking a $250 million “lifeline” loan to keep his businesses afloat during the coronavirus crisis. The restaurateur also said in the interview with Kilmeade that his company is burning $2 million a day in cash right now, as most of his establishments have been forced to close entirely or drastically reduce their service.

In slightly sunnier news, Fertitta announced that furloughed employees who work for his restaurants in Houston would be able to pick up free meals while they’re out of work. According to the Houston Chronicle, the program runs daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Willie G’s, and allows furloughed workers to pick up to four additional meals to feed people in their families.

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