Thanks to the moral pressure exerted by the community in Central New York, the vendor Peter Karageorgis operator of the traveling food concesion “Peter Fine Greeks Foods” will not be back this year at the NYS Fair.
Last Sunday an article in the Syracuse Post Standard announced the news. The representatives at the fair and at the Agriculture and Markets Department say they made the decision based on the US Department of Labor investigation that ruled the vendor committed serious federal wage and hour violations against 19 Mexican guest workers.
The Workers’ Center and the CNY Labor-Religion Coalition wrote a letter back in November of 2010 requesting a meeting with Dan O’Hara, director of the NYS Fair. The letter did not elicit any response, and it was not until a press conference on November 18, national Day of Action against wage theft, in which a local news channel asked NYS fair representatives for an answer to the meeting petition, that Mr. O’Hara conceded to a meeting.
Representatives at the Fair did not follow up with the meeting and the CNY Labor-Religion Coalition, of which the Workers’ Center is a project, wrote a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo by the end of January 2011. This letter did get a response and on Wednesday, May 4 representatives of the Workers’ Center, the CNY and NYS Labor-Religion Coalition, met in Albany with Alphonzo David, Deputy Civil Rights Director, Mario Musolino, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the NYS DOL and Elizaabeth De Leon, Associate Commissioner of teh NYS DOL. At this meeting we were assured the the governor was taking this issue very seriously and that the NYS DOL was responding to our demands and concerns. We asked for a written response to our letter. We asked about the vendor coming back to the fair but were told no decision had been made.
On April of this year the US DOL finished their investigation and made public a ruling in which the vendor was being fined $50K and ordered to pay $15K in back wages and overtime to 11 workers. In December of 2011 ten workers had been also been paid back wages in the combined amount of $85K as part of a criminal complaint settlement.
Even after the April 2011 US DOL ruling the NYS Fair representatives did not make a statement about one of our most important demands: to not allow this employer to come back to the NYS Fair. On May 10, at a meeting organized by the US DOL in which representatives of the NYS DOL and the Fair talked about steps being taken to protect all workers at the Fair and and about getting training about the red flags of human trafficking, no decision had been made.
When Dan O’Hara was questioned at the meeting about this issue he expressed the need of due process. He alluded to being in the process of reviewing, with the help of the NYS DOL, more than 500 vendor applications at the fair. He also said that this was the first time this had been done in which information related to wage and hour violations provided by the NYS DOL was a factor for denying an application to sell at the Fair.
At the Workers’ Center we asked the community to send messages to the NYS Fair about this vendor and to demand he will not be allowed to come back to the Fair. We believed that after the US DOL ruling it was very clear that this vendor had exploited workers and abuse them under the power that the H2b gave him.
While we applaud the decision of the Agriculture and Markets Department in this case, lets not forget the power of community activism and the role of community moral pressure. We owe it to these workers, who decided to take action and affirm their rights, to continue to hold accountable our representatives and the people that conduct businesses in our communities.