Back in March, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials pulled off the biggest raid New England has ever seen, bursting into a leather factory in New Bedford to arrest 360 illegal aliens who had been working for Michael Bianco, Inc, a company with contracts to “produce safety vests and backpacks for the US military”. The owner, one Francesco Insolia, was charged with “conspiring to encourage or induce illegal immigrants to live in the United States, and conspiring to hire illegal immigrants.” Why would they risk jail to hire illegals? Because those illegals were desperate enough to work in the intolerable conditions which were all Insolia was willing to furnish.
According to affidavits unsealed yesterday, Insolia hired illegal immigrants instead of legal workers because the immigrants were desperate for jobs and more willing to put up with working conditions in his factory. Federal investigators allege workers were denied overtime, docked 15 minutes for every minute they were late, and fined for talking on the job, or for spending more than two minutes in the plant’s squalid bathrooms.
“Insolia and others knowingly and intentionally exploited the government by recruiting and hiring illegal aliens without authorization to work,” said US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, announcing the arrests yesterday. “They exploited the workforce with low-paying jobs and horrible working conditions, exploited the taxpayers by securing lucrative contracts funded by our legal workforce, and exploited the legal workforce by hiring illegal aliens.”
A month later the Boston Globe reported that Insolia had actually had the gall to apply for – and receive – grant money from the state of Massachusetts to “train” the workers he was already abusing.
The New Bedford manufacturer raided by federal agents last month for allegedly employing illegal immigrants won approval for $111,150 in state grants over the last four years to hire and train employees, as part of the company’s expansion.
The Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development approved two grants for Michael Bianco Inc. after the owner of the company, Francesco Insolia, appealed for help in winning new contracts from the US Department of Defense and building its share of the commercial textile market.
In early 2003, Michael Bianco, which then employed 87 people, was awarded a $66,250 grant to hire and train 80 new stitchers and machine operators, and to develop an in-house training program for entry-level workers. The state approved another $44,900 for the company this January, but the March 6 immigration raid put that grant on hold.
I probably don’t need to tell you that there is no evidence whatever that the “training sessions” actually took place. Insolia simply pocketed the money. Or perhaps he used it to pay Luis Torres for the fake ID’s Torres got for Insolia’s workers. But here’s the neat part: city officials, Republican and pro-business all, actually visited the factory and, rather than being appalled by the conditions, offered to help Insolia with the grant money and tax breaks.
Insolia reported to the state after receiving the grant only that it had helped him hire more workers and get additional defense contracts, which would mean even more jobs.
A spokesman for Michael Bianco, Doug Bailey, said Insolia didn’t even know such state assistance was available until New Bedford officials informed him during a visit to the factory.
The state eventually sent a representative to meet with Insolia and helped him write the grant, Bailey said. Questions about workers’ immigration status never came up, he said.
According to New Bedford officials, the company also received a five-year tax break from the city in 2004 that had already reaped Michael Bianco more than $50,000 in tax savings as of last month. That tax break, which was approved by the state, required that approximately half of the new jobs generated by the company be given to city residents, in exchange for a total of $80,000 in savings by 2010.
Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, said that the city is already working on getting the $50,000 back.
A little late, guys, and frankly? I hope you never see it again.
It’s the picture of city officials so blindly pro-business that they could walk through that hell-hole of a sweatshop and come away thinking only about how they could help Insolia make more money that puts the 19th century attitudes of modern America into sharp relief. Not one of them appears to have considered for a moment that there was anything wrong or at least suspicious about the crowded, filthy conditions or thought to wonder if these rows and rows of Hispanic women were all legal. Not one of them so much as asked a question about how the workers were treated or raised so much as an eyebrow over an obviously unhealthy workplace. Neither was of the least importance to them. They were focused on one thing and one thing alone: help the owner make more money.
Well, they did. And this time, it was their money he helped himself to. Serves them right, I say. There isn’t a legitimate excuse on the planet that could explain away their collective disinterest in those workers. None. The place reeked of rat but city officials held their noses and refused to smell it. They couldn’t have cared less if they’d been Satan’s towel boys.
But we haven’t hit the bottom of this sewer yet. Today the Globe reports that, along with intolerable working conditions and 19th century rules, Insolia cheated them of $$hundreds of thousands of $$ in overtime.
Five former employees and one current employee of Michael Bianco Inc., filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Boston, charging the company with setting up a fake corporation, Front Line Defense Inc., to avoid paying time-and-a-half wages for overtime shifts.
The workers said that they were routinely ordered to clock out after working a full day shift and then to clock back in for evening shifts. Then they were paid with two separate checks, one from Michael Bianco for day shifts and another from Front Line Defense for evening shifts, to make it appear they had not exceeded the 40 hours a week that would trigger overtime pay, the workers said.
Lawyers for the workers described Front Line Defense as a phantom company, whose principal officers were relatives of Michael Bianco’s owner, Francesco Insolia. Suzanne Thompson, Insolia’s wife, was listed as president, treasurer, and director of Front Line Defense, and their daughter, Marguerite Insolia, was listed as secretary and director.
Front Line Defense’s business address was in the same brick building that housed the Michael Bianco factory, according to the lawsuit. It names as defendants both companies, Insolia, his wife, and his daughter, plus Gloria Melo, who was office manager at Michael Bianco and was listed as secretary at Front Line Defense.
“It was a clear and deliberately created fiction that was designed to make it look like, on paper, that these additional overtime hours were not being worked,” said Audrey Richardson, a lawyer at Greater Boston Legal Services. “And for that reason, it’s a particularly egregious example of an employer going out of its way to violate the wage-and-hour laws.”
I’m surprised Insolia didn’t classify them all as “independent contractors”. That seems to have been the only slimy corporate trick he overlooked.
The only reason Insolia could have gotten away with such blatant abuse is that our govts – Federal, state, and local – have become full-time enablers of corporate sleaze. At the Federal level, the Labor Dept is being run by an ex-corporate lawyer who used to specialize in helping clients avoid regulaltions and subvert labor laws. At the state level, they hand out money and tax breaks almost automatically to any corporation that applies and ask no questions. At the local level, officials are perfectly prepared to turn a blind eye to employee abuses owners no longer even bother to hide.
It’s beyond disgraceful. It’s a sell-out of everything America used to mean and an insult to the millions who died to make this country a better place to live for everyone, not just a select few who happened to be owners and rich.
We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for what we have helped this nation become, but so far there’s no sign of it.