SAN FRANCISCO — The city of San Francisco has recovered nearly $845,000 from 19 restaurants that allegedly charged customers for the cost of complying with a universal health care law but did not use most of the money for that purpose, the city attorney announced Wednesday.
Dennis Herrera said the money came from eateries that took advantage of a one-time amnesty program his office announced in January. As part of the program, restaurants with large gaps between the surcharges they collected from customers and the amount they spent on health care for their workers only had to pony up half of what the city claimed they owed.
About 1,500 employees of the 19 companies will be eligible for a share of the $844,644 the city has recouped so far, an average of $563 per person. They include workers at such popular establishments as 5A5 Steak Lounge, Cafe Flore, Amber India and the restaurants owned by chef Michael Mina.
"For restaurants that haven't yet come forward, it's still very much in their interest to do so voluntarily," Herrera said. "I can't guarantee the same favorable terms reflected in today's settlements, but cooperative engagement is better and more cost-effective than lawsuits."
Since 2009, San Francisco has required businesses with at least 20 workers to set aside an extra $1 to $3 an hour per worker and give the money to the city to provide health care for residents without private insurance who are ineligible for Medicare or Medi-Cal. Many responded by adding Healthy San Francisco surcharges of between 3 and 5 percent to customer receipts.
The Associated Press reported last year that restaurants and other businesses in San Francisco collected almost $14 million in extra fees in 2011 from their patrons, but that roughly 40 percent of that money hadn't been spent on their workers' health care.
Another 30 restaurants also applied to take part in the amnesty offer, but have not yet reached settlements with the city, Herrera said.