Looting Hawaiian Gardens
Club Sued Courts: Latino Rights Group Says People Called Volunteers
|by Joe Segura, Staff writer
Originally published 20 March 2000
in Long Beach Press-Telegram
Section: LOCAL NEWS
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Copyright (c) 2002 Press-Telegram
2003 design by elbop for the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem