Wage Theft: that’s something we think happens to migrant labor and workers in low-paying service sector jobs. They do the work, but their unscrupulous employers rip them off, refusing to pay them for their labor.
But if you think wage theft won’t come to a school near you, think again. As Tom Robbins thoroughly documents in the Village Voice, one of Tweed’s latest food service contracts is with a Westchester based firm, Answers Vending, which owes over a hundred thousand dollars in fines to the NY State Department of Labor for ripping off the wages of its workers. According to Robbins, a Labor Department probe was launched and fines were levied
after organizers from a Teamsters local in Queens contacted workers at Answer to see if they were interested in joining the union. “They were interested, but they were terrified of losing their jobs,” said Sandy Pope, president of Local 805.
What the workers did tell organizers was that they often had to work 50- and 60-hour weeks, without overtime, and that wages were often paid partly in cash. They received no benefits, they said. The organizing drive stalled, Pope said, after employers warned workers that they didn’t want a union in the shop. Since the union couldn’t help the workers, it turned its findings over to state labor investigators.
Answers Vending will receive a handsome 15 to 18% profit off of this contract with the DoE.
The DoE chose Answers Vending over a competing bid from Canteen Vending Services, which has a unionized work force and “a contract providing a retirement plan, health benefits, and higher pay.” Originally — and amazingly — Tweed said that Canteen Vending had the better bid, but it was rejected because it had an inferior product. It has now retracted that claim. Tweed also has no explanation for how Answers Vending could have made its way through a vetting process which was supposed to identify corporate rip off artists like it.
Kim Bobo, founder and executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, has done yeoman’s [or should we say yeowoman's work] on the issue of wage theft. If you have not read it, her book Wage Theft is an essential primer on the subject. You can also check the Interfaith Worker Justice’s website on the subject here.