Southampton Immigrant Workers organize with SEPA Mujer to Press Criminal Charges against Abusive Employers for exploitation of Latino Employees
SEPA Mujer, in collaboration with Latino Justice PRLDEF, organized workers to fight against the wage theft and harassment at the Southampton Princess Diner, resulting in criminal charges being filed by the New York State Attorney General’s Office .
Lialdia.com / Suffolk NY/ 9/22/2017 – Spanish – On September 19, 2017, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the indictment and arrest of Suffolk County residents Richard Bivona, owner of Southampton Princess Diner (“Princess Diner”), John Kalogeras, manager of Princess Diner, and the corporation, RJT Food & Restaurant, LLC d/b/a Southampton Princess Diner. Bivona and Kalogeras are charged with repeatedly failing to pay thirteen restaurant workers over $82,000 in wages, in addition to allegedly scheming to defraud those workers by continually lying to them about eventually receiving full compensation. Bivona and Kalogeras are each charged with separate counts of harassment for intimidating and threatening workers and their families when the workers asked to be paid.
Local grassroots Latina immigrant women’s rights organization SEPA Mujer first received a call from a member of their Hampton Bays Chapter in December 2016 asking for SEPA Mujer’s support to organize workers from Princess Diner to come forward and report the unjust treatment and discriminatory practices going on in their workplace. This member described the workplace environment to be intolerable, reporting that workers constantly faced racism and harassment, including sexual harassment. The workers quickly came together thanks to this member, who instilled trust and provided leadership. SEPA Mujer quickly contacted LatinoJustice PRLDEF, NY Department of Labor, Southampton Town Police Detectives, and the NYS Attorney General’s office to start the process of bringing justice to these workers.
Together in collaborative efforts with these organizations, agencies and law enforcement, SEPA Mujer facilitated periodic meetings with the victims to hear their complaints. Each organization and agencies responded appropriately with workers from the first meeting with the group from December 2016 until now. Through collaboration developed a positive relationship between the community and the Police Department, which is crucial to building trust and serving all members of the community equally.
Martha Maffei Executive Director of SEPA Mujer who also worked very closely with the SEPA Mujer leader and other organizations stated, “We want to create a precedent that these types of cases are not unique, there are many, but this group getting justice will mark a clear line that criminal cases like this one will face justice. Organization like ours are the ones trying to empower our community to make sure they come forward and seek justice and fight for their rights. Our immigrant community that is being discriminated and oppressed must feel comfortable to report crimes and work with the police. It starts with good relationship and trust building among the police and the community with grassroots organizations. The workers have expressed how thankful they are towards the police officers and detectives who extended their help.”
Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, Associate Counsel of Latino Justice: “These workers demonstrated great courage in challenging their criminal abusers. We thank SEPA Mujer for their critical organizing work and helping ensure that the voices of these workers are heard. Further, we commend the Attorney General for prosecuting this case. Our current criminal justice system too commonly focuses on prosecuting low level offenses, but turns a blind eye to systematic wage theft of working-class employees. We hope this is a turning point for criminal prosecution of economic crimes, even among the most vulnerable among us.”
“It is devastating to know that the women who feed us and our local economy with their labor routinely had to endure sexual harassment, wage theft and other discriminatory workplace conditions at Princess Diner. We commend the workers, SEPA Mujer, LatinoJustice and our local and state government officials for their efforts to stand up against corporate greed and put an end to exploitation in our communities,” said Anita Halasz, Executive Director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, a workers’ rights and economic justice organization.
“A worker’s most basic right is the right to be paid for his or her work,” Attorney General Schneidermansaid. “These defendants allegedly engaged in a long running scheme to not only steal their employees’ hard-earned money, but to intimidate and harass their victims when they attempted to speak up. We will not allow New York workers to be exploited and demeaned.”
Our coalition will continue to fight for the community and make sure justice is served.
SEPA Mujer is a grassroots not-for-profit organization that has advocated and fought for the rights, empowerment and the voices of Latina Immigrant women and their struggles in Long Island since 1993.
SEPA MUJER (Services for the Advancement of Women)
185 Oval Drive Islandia NY 11749 (631) 980 -2555
SEPA Mujer currently has three chapters; Islandia, Hampton Bays and Riverhead with legal offices in Islandia NY only.