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Workers walk off jobs at Days Inn

EVELETH -- About 30 employees of the Days Inn in Eveleth walked off the job Tuesday night in a dispute over working conditions and employee treatment.

EVELETH -- About 30 employees of the Days Inn in Eveleth walked off the job Tuesday night in a dispute over working conditions and employee treatment.

The hotel and its restaurant still were operating Wednesday, hotel owner Sean Kim said.

However, Eveleth police are investigating theft charges brought by Kim against several employees and allegations made by employees against management, Eveleth Police Chief Brian Lillis said.

"I can confirm that we are investigating a complaint made by management of Days Inn of theft of property," Lillis said. "We are also investigating complaints by employees against management."

Denise Enquist of Biwabik, who has been general manager at the hotel for about three months, said employees shared stories of alleged discrimination, pay issues, construction permit violations and verbal and sexual harassment at an informal meeting Tuesday night. Employees have been paid by personal check and Kim has never taken their Social Security numbers, Enquist and others said.

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"I've been a manager elsewhere, but this is the oddest situation I've ever seen," Enquist said. "Things just don't match up there."

She said the theft complaint might stem from employees temporarily holding on to business records when they walked off the job Tuesday night.

Kim said some staff members had been taking food and utensils from the kitchen.

Eveleth police on Wednesday interviewed several employees of the hotel. Because the investigation is ongoing, law enforcement would not comment.

The hotel -- which had been closed for several years -- reopened Nov. 13, Kim said. He and his family came from Los Angeles to the Iron Range to open the hotel, he said Wednesday.

Kim denied any wrongdoing, saying the allegations are an attempt by employees to drive him out of business and then grab banquet, catering and restaurant business for themselves.

He produced two letters Wednesday that he said he had ripped up and thrown in the garbage after receiving them earlier in the day from a disgruntled employee. The letters threatened to tell the media about worker complaints unless Kim dropped theft charges that he filed early Wednesday against several employees.

Kim said managers hired employees without his knowledge and are scheming in an effort to make the hotel fail.

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"I did nothing wrong here," Kim said. "I am a victim."

An Eveleth liquor license application lists Lydia Kim Yoon as the licensee for the hotel's bar.

The hotel, along Highway 53, at one time had been a Holiday Inn. It later came under new ownership, then closed before being acquired by Kim. The new management had boasted of hiring a top Twin Cities chef, Don Elicerio; he apparently was one of the employees who walked out Tuesday night.

Kim said Wednesday that the hotel had lost about $500,000 a year in the last five years it operated before he took over. At that time, it had 80 employees, Kim said.

He said because other managers handle the hiring, he isn't sure how many employees work at the hotel, though it's nowhere near 80.

The hotel operates under a management company, HCSS Corp., he said.

A desk clerk, waitress and three kitchen personnel were among employees working Wednesday afternoon during a walk-through of the hotel.

Meanwhile, police are investigating the dueling complaints; other agencies will be called into the investigation if required, Lillis said.

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"Our focus is violation of criminal law," he said. "If they (employees) have complaints about violations of civil law, they may have to take them elsewhere."

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