Looting Hawaiian Gardens
Bingo Club Sued Courts: Latino Rights Group Says People Called Volunteers Are Employees
by Joe Segura, Staff writer
Originally published 20 March 2000
in Long Beach Press-Telegram

Section: LOCAL NEWS
Edition: AM
Page: A3

A major Latino civil rights organization filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday alleging that the Bingo Club is abusing its staffers by calling them volunteers and not paying them salaries.

The tips from the Bingo Club players are the sole sources of income for about 24 people, who earn about $200 a week. The operation generates about $30 million yearly for the Irving Moskowitz Foundation, which supports right-wing political groups in Israel, according to attorney Hector Villagra, director of the Los Angeles-area office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

MALDEF is seeking a temporary restraining order to force the club to pay salaries while the case makes its way though the courts. The suit also seeks back pay for the staffers.

Attorney Beryl Weiner, who represents Bingo Club owner Irving Moskowitz, said he has not seen the lawsuit. He said that state law forbids paying wages or salaries to people directly involved in running bingo games, except for security officers.

``The plaintiffs' complaints are with the California Legislature, not with the Bingo Club or the Moskowitz Foundation,'' Weiner added. ``If California law is changed and the prohibition against paying volunteers a wage or salary is eliminated, the Bingo Club will fully comply.''

Staffers work an average of four six-hour shifts a week, and can earn between $40 and $50 a shift, Villagra said.

MALDEF argues that the work conditions do not fit the definition of volunteers.

Villagra said posted work schedules show that the staffers must show up for consistent hourly shifts. They also must report to work 10 minutes before their shifts and can have their hours reduced if they are late to the club or are returning from a break, Villagra added.

There are mandatory meetings, and the staffers must ask permission before they go to the bathroom or leave the Bingo Club, Villagra charged. He said the staffers must also provide advance written notice if they intend to take time off and they can take only a limited number of vacation days.

The lawsuit affects 24 staffers, called breakers and runners, who sell bingo cards.

``The control and supervision ... leaves little doubt as to the true status of the breakers and runners,'' Villagra said.

The MALDEF attorney said state gaming law requires bingo games to be run by volunteers from the charitable organization involved in the fund raising. He added that the Bingo Club workers are not involved with the Moskowitz Foundation, adding that at times they are discouraged from attending its functions. The issue of pay was raised by the staffers in 1997, when two female workers complained of the conditions. State labor officials at the time said the expectation of tips could be a key factor in determining their volunteer sta- tus, since volunteers don't work for pay.

However, Weiner said, the case was dismissed as being without merit because the provisions of Penal Code Section 326.5 say it is unlawful to pay wages or salaries to volunteers.

State Senate Majority Leader Richard Polanco and Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of Whittier, who have both challenged the bingo operations in the past, praised the MALDEF move.

Copyright (c) 2002 Press-Telegram

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