Looting Hawaiian Gardens
Workers at Bingo Club Mistreated, Suit Claims -- Labor: MALDEF Alleges That Charity Operation Avoids Paying Employees a Wage by Calling Them Volunteers
by Eric Malnic, Times Staff Writer
Originally published 20 March 2000
in Los Angeles Times

March 20, 2002

Workers at Bingo Club Mistreated, Suit Claims Labor: MALDEF alleges that charity operation avoids paying employees a wage by calling them volunteers.

A charitable bingo operation in Hawaiian Gardens is fraudulently calling its workers volunteers to avoid paying them lawful wages, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The filing by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund says the 24 workers listed in the suit, most of whom are Latinos, are paid no wages and depend on tips they receive while selling bingo cards at the Hawaiian Gardens Bingo Club.

The club, owned by the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation, may take in as much as $50 million a year, according to the U.S. District Court suit, which names the club and foundation as the principal defendants. Some rabbis and peace activists have accused Moskowitz of using profits from his clubs to finance hard-line charities in Israel.

Critics, including the U.S. State Department, have accused him of inciting violent Israeli-Palestinian confrontations.

Under state law, charity bingo operations can use only volunteer workers.

The suit contends that the club's workers "are not volunteers in any true sense of the word" because they work regular hours several days a week, must sign in and out, are punished if they violate work rules and must ask permission before they go to the bathroom or leave the club.

Attorney Beryl Weiner, a club spokesman, said the workers "are, absolutely, volunteers."

"Nobody forces them to show up, and nobody says that they can't leave," Weiner said.

"They like what they do. Some of them have been there for more than 10 years."

Weiner said California law prohibits wages and salaries for volunteer workers, "and the Moskowitz Foundation will not pay a salary or wage in violation of the law."

The filing was announced Tuesday at a downtown news conference attended by state Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles).

The suit asks for damages including unpaid wages and other benefits, general damages for pain, suffering and mental anguish, and punitive damages.

Copyright 2002, Los Angeles Times For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.

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