In the tsunami of news regarding the economic crisis and government bailout, the narrative that has formed largely follows the line of a greedy Wall Street swindling the victims of Main Street. So, it was with great interest that I read a brief opinion item in today’s NYT that focused on small business owners exploiting their employees. At issue is the arrest of two executives at a local grocery store in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, who were recently arrested on felony charges. Their crime: allegedly cheating immigrant workers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay. Although the execs deny the charges, prosecutors contend that they forced baggers to work 11-hour days without wages, earning just about $20 in tips among other allegations.
The arrests are the culmination in part, of the work done by the community activist organization Make The Road New York. The group has long documented the sub-minimum wage and no overtime pay practices of a number of retail shops on Knickerbocker Avenue, a one-time redoubt of mom and pop shops that had for years been owned by and largely served a predominantly immigrant community. The group’s report: Street of Shame garnered the attention of the New York State’s attorney general’s office. The lessons here are fairly rich. Certainly, it shows the vital role that community organizers can play. Moreover, greed and bad business practices are not solely the purview of those sitting in the corner offices of Wall Street.