Archive for December, 2008

Icon Cleaners: Amityville Horror Revisited

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

For many of us, Amityville NY brings to mind a book (and movie) called the Amityville Horror, which tell the story of an innocent couple moving into a house whose prior inhabitants had been murdered. The house is haunted by the ghosts of the deceased. If the story were to happen again, the house would surely be cleaned by Icon Cleaners.
New York’s Labor Department has determined that Icon Cleaners unlawfully deducted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the paychecks of their 170 cleaners. Icon called these people independent contractor “technicians” – all of whom wore Icon uniforms, worked under Icon control and used Icon equipment. Not only were they not independent, they labored under conditions of virtual servitude.
Here’s how Icon functioned: each employee was forced to pay a $500 security deposit upon being hired at the company, which could either be paid for up front or deducted from subsequent paychecks. (“Congratulations on your new job, sucker!”). Technicians often found their paychecks reduced for a variety of (illegal) reasons:
– In the event that a customer was not satisfied with the service provided by the company, or if the wrong services were rendered, a deduction was made from the employee’s paycheck.
– In instances where the company was doing a promotional campaign on discounted services, these discounts were taken out of employee paychecks.(!)
– If an employee indicated that he or she needed extra assistance on a particular project, in some instances Icon Cleaning would provide another worker for the project and that worker’s wages were deducted from the requesting employee’s paycheck.
– If a customer provided a check to the employee and it bounced, the employee was required make up for the lost revenues through payroll deductions.
Technicians worked up to 12 hours a day, 60 hours a week cleaning air ducts and carpets in private homes and businsses. After the illegal deductions had been made, some workers brought home less than $100 in a given week. They had been taken to the proverbial cleaners.
It’s not surprising to find that customer satisfaction mirrored the working conditions; you can read some disgruntled customer comments here.
There is no mention of worker immigration status in the press release from the Department of Labor, but I suspect that illegal workers would be more likely to tolerate these intolerable working conditions. It’s ironic, of course, that Icon is in the cleaning business. When it comes to fundamental employee rights, it doesn’t get any dirtier than this.

Legal Advice on the Cheap

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Dollar Tree is a national company with stores in all 48 states. Everything they offer costs a buck. (They are doing very nicely in this recession.) Here’s how they describe themselves:

Walk into one of our stores and it hits you immediately: this is a place where shopping is fun. We call it “Thrill of the Hunt”. We have worked hard to create an environment where our customers can discover new treasures every week. Where entire families can enjoy looking for that special something.

As you will soon see, the “thrill of the hunt” has become a very unfortunate metaphor for the Dollar Tree experience, at least for one hapless employee.
Taneka Talley worked at a Dollar Tree store in Fairfield, California. On March 29, 2006, Tommy Joe Thompson walked into the store not looking for a bargain, but for someone black. Identifying Talley as a person of color, he stabbed her to death. Talley left a son, Larry, who was 8 years old at the time of the murder.
It seems pretty obvious that Talley was in “the course and scope” of employment at the time of her murder. She had no prior relationship with Thompson. Her death, therefore, is a compensable event under workers compensation. Thompson’s racist motives have no bearing on that compensability.
Well, it appears that it’s not just the merchandise at Dollar Tree that’s worth a buck. Their legal advice is equally on the cheap. Dollar Tree’s TPA, Specialty Risk Services, has denied the Talley family claim for survivor benefits. Their reasoning? Thompson’s sole motivation for attacking Talley was her race. The death had nothing to do with her being a Dollar Tree employee. She just happened to be at work when Thompson walked into the store on his demonic errand.
The insurer’s denial is based upon testimony during Mr. Thompson’s mental competency hearing. District Attorney Dane Neilson asked psychiatrist Herb McGrew, “You know that he (Thompson) got up that morning and he said, ‘I’m going to kill a black person.’ She was unfortunately, the first person he saw, correct?”
“Correct,” McGrew said.
It took the jury less than half an hour to determine that Thompson could understand the proceedings against him and was competent to stand trial. At some point, if this case reaches a judicial proceeding, Specialty Risk’s denial of the claim will be brushed aside with equal fervor. Dollar Tree would do well to work out a (generous) settlement prior to any such hearing.
If Dollar Tree needs additional motivation to reach a settlement, perhaps they should begin by reading their own “mission and values” statement:
Attitude: Responsibility, Integrity, Courtesy
Judgment: Do the Right Thing For The Right Reasons.
Commitment: Honor and Respect for Self and Company
Do the Right Thing for the Right Reasons, indeed.