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Market Basket (Ashland) - problems with worker docs.

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For those of us that shop there, this was always understood. It might be more widespread throughout the Demoulas Super Markets Inc. organization (and any/all similar businesses), but it seems that the feds caught them.

http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/art...

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  1. And...

    20 Replies
    1. re: Jenny Ondioline

      And it's an interesting article. If you don't find an article about the business practices of a well discussed local food business interesting, it's simple enough to mentally decide "meh", and move along.

      I thought the news was noteworthy (as did the article's publisher). Your mileage may vary.

      1. re: NE_Wombat

        The article isn't just about the business practices of a local food business, it's about all businesses. MB just had the largest fine of all the other businesses that were fined.
        I think the article is more about how companies should be more diligent in their hiring practices.

        I find this topic not Chow worthy. YMMV

        1. re: Infomaniac

          If you work (or have ever worked) in the food industry, then you'll know that this has always been, and continues to be, a very relevant issue. If anything, this article is a reminder to all that the feds are, in fact, paying attention and maybe these businesses should think twice about accepting sketchy documents from foreign applicants.

          I know first hand that restaurants are extremely lax in this area and I don't believe your average restaurant is required to go through any type of training to identify an authentic document vs. fake, and they definitely don't do any type of scanning to validate IDs and such. They don't want to know - they just want good workers and give them the benefit of a doubt.

          Just a few thoughts. Don't forget that these workers are often the heartbeat of our favorite restaurants that are talked about extensively on this board, so I find it appropriate to discuss the business behind our chicken fried steak once in a while.

          1. re: OliveJones

            Then this post belongs in General Topics, because the article of subject isn't singling out a supermarket chain, it just listing them as a a company that was fined.

            This practice is common in construction, landscaping, food service, anywhere that cheap labor is needed.

            Being compliant is expensive for small businesses, and it's going to get more expensive for businesses that aren't addressing it now.

            1. re: Infomaniac

              When a single business has 119 labor documentation violations, at a single locations, that isn't random administrative error. That's a business making an affirmative decision to hire undocumented workers because they are cheaper.

              Further, every single shopper that payed attention knew that MUST be the case. Everybody that shopped at that location saw who was working there, and knew the specific limitations of the workers, and why they were working there.

              This is NOT a post to be moved to General Topics. While this sort of illegal abuse may happen in other areas, this is a discussion specific to Greater Boston.

              1. re: NE_Wombat

                I've shopped there, and I'm left scratching my head about your assertion that we "saw who was working there". What was I supposed to see that I wasn't seeing? Who was working there?

                1. re: Cachetes

                  It's difficult to believe that you haven't seen a difference between this business' workers and, say, Roche Brothers, Hannaford, or even Stop and Shop. As you walk through the aisles, are you honestly stating that you perceive no differences in the workforce? I've been to businesses all over the Commonwealth, and I'd be hard pressed to name a large business with such a preponderance of workers speaking Brazilian Portuguese. I'll be the first to scream that the conversational language of the workers isn't an indication of work status, but at some point you need to acknowledge the reality of massive labor law violations.

                  1. re: NE_Wombat

                    I noticed that the majority did not speak English as their first language. But the other leaps - about "limitations", documented status, and impact on small business - no, I never speculated. You might think I'm naive, but there are too many parallels with other laboring populations in other sectors, and frankly not something I think is all that important. (and if you want to find the reasons for the downfall of small business, you'd likely find more direct causation in the rise of the big box stores like Walmart than in the presence of undocumented workers on US payrolls).

                2. re: NE_Wombat

                  You're implying that they hired undocumented workers, when the article says after inspecting documents of 119 workers. You don't think the workers gave false information to get the job?

                  The article mentions noting about hiring undocumented workers, or paying them below minimum wage.

                  The only affirmative decision these businesses made was not verifying who they hired. That's it...not food related.

                  1. re: Infomaniac

                    They have hired undocumented workers. They have been fined over $38 thousand because of that specific violation.

                    YES - their workers gave false information to get work. A simple observation made by walking down the aisles in that store makes that clear.

                    This is CLEARLY a food service issue. Market Basket is a frequent subject of discussion - with particular focus on their "low, low" prices. This specifically relates to how they can offer those "low, low" prices.

                    Why do you want this quashed? Just let people read the dang article, and decide what they think about it.

                    1. re: NE_Wombat

                      I really don't care if this post stay here or moves to another board, but the article is more about a employee verification process, and not about food.

                      These companies were fined for not verifying the documentation of who they hired, and not for hiring undocumented people. That's what the article says.

                      How can an agency examine the documents of 119 workers when you continue to say they are undocumented.

                      I guess now what I really want to know know is, how you or anyone could make an observation by walking down an isle and spot a undocumented/illegal worker just by looking at them. Answer that one for me.

                      1. re: Infomaniac

                        First, they didn't examine the documents of 119 workers. The state examined the documents of everyone in a specific grocery store, and found that there was 119 problems.

                        Have you been to this specific store?

                        Next, as to "how you or anyone could make an observation by walking down an aisle and spot a undocumented/illegal worker just by looking at them" - I don't make that claim. I know that specific, known persons are illegally in the US, and are illegally working for Demoulas. Further, I know that Demoulas, as a Massachusetts employer, has been cited on multiple occasions for hiring illegal workers.

                        Specific, known people.

                      2. re: NE_Wombat

                        I still don't understand how anyone can credibly conclude that because workers are speaking Brazilian Portuguese to each other, that means the workers gave false information to get work. And that because someone perceives "limitations" in the workers, that also means they gave false information to get work?

                        I live in East Somerville, where there is a large population of Spanish and Portuguese speakers. I don't know...can't tell...and don't consider it any of my business if some or all or none are undocumented.

                        I speak Spanish so I know that most Spanish speakers here are not speaking the Castilian/European version I learned, but that doesn't prove they are undocumented. I understand some Portuguese, but can't tell the difference between European and Brazilian. You can, but why would you presume that speaking Brazilian Portuguese means employees are illegally working?

                        I've also noted a lot of limitations among native English speaking people, in many occupations, very highly paid to not well paid at all. What are these limitations supposed to imply about illegally working in the US?

                        I get that the store was found guilty and fined, and that there is a huge problem with underpaid/exploited people working in the US without legal documentation. But blanket assumptions based on spoken language and "limitations" seem unfair.

                        There are other reasons for Market Basket low prices, as well...as anyone knows who shops there, they restock during shopping hours, crowding the aisles and making navigation difficult. The parking lots are a nightmare. The checkers are a lot faster and more efficient than at Whole Foods, for example.

          2. re: Jenny Ondioline

            Sorry,...I've been thinking a bit more about your comment: "And..."

            I've actually been thinking about why *I* care about this particular issue, and why others might also care.

            "We" (as in the global "we" - across the Chow domains) frequently lament the demise of XYZ-Restaurant/Butcher/Baker/Shop. We collectively mourn the loss of a small businesses.

            Part of the loss is directly caused by the fact that everyone isn't playing by the same rules. If a specific business, at a single specific location, isn't playing by the rules, it hurts all of us. We now have evidence that a specific business, at a single specific location, isn't playing by the rules. How many "artisanal" small shops get hosed because Market Basket hires illegals, and can pay them less than the market competition?

            Market Basket isn't violating the laws to hire artisan bakers. They aren't violating the law to hire crafts-people. We all know that they are violating the law to drive down their labor costs, and pay desperate undocumented immigrants less than legal workers.

            Given that business advantage, does anyone really wonder why MB is cheaper?

            1. re: NE_Wombat

              They have no union.

              1. re: NE_Wombat

                "We all know that they are violating the law to drive down their labor costs, and pay desperate undocumented immigrants less than legal workers."

                It seems to me you're making some assumptions here. The workers had documents, but apparently not legitimate ones, or else there would've been nothing for ICE to review. Also, nowhere does it say these workers were being paid less than legal workers or otherwise being exploited. Are you assuming that to be true because MB's prices are low? That seems a bit of a reach. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not, but this particular article says nothing about substandard wages or poor treatment of workers.

                1. re: purple bot

                  Have you spent any meaningful time in this specific store?

                  I know specific, known people who have worked at that specific location who are illegal. This isn't the first round of state sanctions, or the first round of fines for hiring undocumented workers.

                  Corporations aren't hiring illegals because it's more expensive than hiring legal, documented workers. Companies aren't hiring illegals because it's "just about the same cost" as hiring legal workers. Each illegal worker is hired because it's cheaper than hiring a legal, documented worker.

                  1. re: NE_Wombat

                    Or, maybe they're trying to hire people that are reliable hard workers. You're making an awful lot of assumptions.

                    1. re: NE_Wombat

                      Can we expect a Chowhound thread on you for every marginally food-related business in the Commonwealth that is known or suspected (by you) of having hired undocumented workers?

                      1. re: LilBrownBat

                        Well, I checked the numerous other Market Basket threads on Chow, and wasn't surprised to see that you haven't complained in any of them that Market Basket is simply a "marginally food-related business", so I'll dismiss that part of your question.

                        Next, I direct you to the feds clear and simple statement that they fined the company for "hiring unlawful employees".

                        Now, you may still think that it's simply my suspicions that they hired undocumented workers - but, it's clear my suspicions are well supported by the conclusion of the federal investigation.

              2. That article is spectacularly uninformative. Yes, the Ashland Market Basket received a $38,000+ fine for some kind of problem with the documents of 119 employees. But that averages out to about $325 per violation, whereas another business was fined nearly $6600 for violations on only 2 employees, and another was fined $7000 for 6 employees. Without more details about the specific violations and the breakdown of the fines, that suggests that the Market Basket violations, while related to many more workers, may have been comparatively minor.

                There is no evidence in the article that the violations have anything to do with undocumented workers, rather than with bad record keeping. If you have more detailed information about the specific nature of the fines, please provide it.

                9 Replies
                1. re: Allstonian

                  According to ICE, it certainly appears to be more than lax recordkeeping.

                  "14 Massachusetts companies fined for hiring unlawful employees"

                  http://m.ice.gov/news/releases/1404/1...

                  1. re: NE_Wombat

                    I'm puzzled as to why two businesses listed were hit with substantial fines ($8360 and $10,000) when they had NO suspect documents.

                    1. re: Allstonian

                      Perhaps not having any documentation gives a count of zero, but it was still determined that the worker(s) were unlawful.

                      1. re: NE_Wombat

                        Which still suggests that MB's violations, while large in number, may have been comparatively minor in degree.

                        1. re: Allstonian

                          ICE specifically states hiring unlawful workers. You can decide on your own if that matters.

                          1. re: NE_Wombat

                            It seems that if it matters, one of the best ways for customers to deal with it would be to stop shopping in locations with confirmed and suspected violations. Vote with the wallet.

                            1. re: NE_Wombat

                              Actually, except for that mention in the headline, the news release mostly refers to document verification and I-9 violations. I still think it's very unclear whether every business fined was guilty of the the same violations, given the very wide range of fines relative to the numbers of documents in question for each fine levied.

                              1. re: Allstonian

                                I interpret:

                                "14 Massachusetts companies fined for hiring unlawful employees", followed by a list of exactly 14 companies, in a fairly straight forward way. You can choose any interpretation you'd like.

                    2. re: Allstonian

                      You bring up a very good point here with the $325 per violation fine. Clearly this is not a serious violation fine with that average.

                      The
                      U.S. Code › Title 8 › Chapter 12 › Subchapter II › Part VIII › § 1324a
                      8 U.S. Code § 1324a - Unlawful employment of aliens:

                      (5) Order for civil money penalty for paperwork violations
                      With respect to a violation of subsection (a)(1)(B) of this section, the order under this subsection shall require the person or entity to pay a civil penalty in an amount of not less than $100 and not more than $1,000 for each individual with respect to whom such violation occurred. In determining the amount of the penalty, due consideration shall be given to the size of the business of the employer being charged, the good faith of the employer, the seriousness of the violation, whether or not the individual was an unauthorized alien, and the history of previous violations.

                      Based on the $325 p/violation average, it sounds like the violation weren't that serious, and Market Basket acts in good faith when dealing with these issues. In fact, I would imagine MB welcomes these audits because having an unlawful aliens on the payroll believe it or not can be costly if an accident should happen.

                      Once you unknowingly hire a person like this they have certain rights. if they are hurt on the job, they have the right to collect worker's comp. benefits. They may even have the right to collect disability insurance if they paid into it from their paychecks. They have the right to organize or join a union to force better working conditions.

                      With a company the size of MB, and the turnover of help they must go through at minimum wage jobs, it would be almost impossible to weed out all unlawful aliens. You can ask them if they are legal, and they can answer yes. and they could provide previous job history, and documents to support whatever they need to get hired.

                      I don't see any sign of wrong doing in this case other than a need to improve the verification process of a new employee.

                    3. MB/DeM has also been in trouble for employeeing underage teens. I live in the heart of MB territory, with a number of MB stores within a 5-mile radius. It was common knowledge that young teens could get work there.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: greygarious

                        As long as we are having so much fun on this thread, I'll weigh in.

                        Many years ago, when I was an underage age teen, d have loved to work at a place like DeMoulas. Whole lot better than other places where some of my colleagues worked.

                        Today when I shop at a Shaws or WF (no MBs nearby) or Chinatown..mostly, English is often not the first language. I can get by with Spanish. No prayer of communicating in Chinese. Throw in a "por favor" or "gracias" and I virtually always get good pleasant service. Toss in the convenience stores that are often run by folk from the Middle East and speak Arabic.

                        I'm not an ICE agent. I have my opinions on social issues but I pretty much leave them at the door when it comes to buying my groceries.

                        I don't check documentation of kitchen staff when I go to restaurants either.

                        1. re: 9lives

                          ^ all of this

                          I had to get creative to work (no doubt I am much better off because of it) as a teen. would have welcomed a job at Market Basket.

                          1. re: black_lab

                            My friend who worked the 12-8 am shift at out local NY supermarket was the envy of all of us. Min wage..$2ish/hour but he could eat whatever he wanted.

                            We'd occasionally visit him at work. Stores were not open and it was a lonely job....but he was never lonely with that "eat anything" policy..:)

                            After high school, he went to Princeton and no longer stocks supermarket shelves; but still could..in English, Portuguese, Spanish, Farsi and probably Mandarin.

                      2. By hiring illegal workers we as the public may suffer by way of lax food safety. To me, that is the real issue.
                        I do shop at this particular MB and will continue to do so.The seafood especially is by far better than at the nearby Shaws.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: trufflehound

                          Why do you say that?

                          I'm not trying to be argumentative but why would illegal aliens be more subject to lax food safety?

                          I spend a lot of time in Mexico and the seafood is far better than what we see in US markets..not even close.

                          Illegals or legals are likely to present the seafood or other products that their supervisor tells them, if they want to keep their job.

                          1. re: 9lives

                            food safety because of illegally working "aliens"?

                            I don't get it either.

                            Are you implying they can't read dates on expired foods, can't follow instructions of supervisors? I've had problems with expired foods at posh shops where everyone seems to speak English.

                            Some of my ancestors came here illegally....to the location that is now known as Virginia. Yes, it was before the Mayflower, and so there weren't any national laws about Europeans coming over and claiming lands where natives had lived for a long, long time.

                            The US is nation of immigrants with a history of harming those who lived here before they came. Harming a lot.

                            1. re: 9lives

                              If they are not hired properly, are they trained properly? What other corners are cut in the MB chain?
                              As I said, I will continue to shop there.

                              1. re: trufflehound

                                When you say "hired properly," do you mean in regards to their immigration status?

                                If so, I would imagine that their training is in line with other hires. I doubt there would be different standards for employees, based on their immigration status.

                                I imagine you get good and bad employees regardless of immigration status.

                                I have no idea what corners are cut at MB, if any, aside from what Wombat posted.

                          2. MB sells the same lettuce and strawberries as other supermarkets. Who do you think is picking those vegetables, legal residents of the USA?

                            1. Making ethical decisions about buying food or anything else is increasingly tough. When even conservative Forbes is reporting that the federal government is paying $6.2 billion in subsidies to support Walmart workers, and another $1.2 billion to support McDonald's employees, it's hard to fault local chains for doing anything it takes to survive. Harsh reality.

                              It's also true that few of us - maybe the 3%? - can afford to shop at gated-community stores like Whole Foods.

                              1. I live in Texas and don't believe this particular subject should be hidden away on the Boston board. I say move it over to General Topics.:-)

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: miss_belle

                                  Respectfully, I don't agree. Not that my opinion matters, move it to GT.

                                  This thread came from a post that referenced a local newspaper.

                                  It's not unique to Boston, but it's where it is

                                  I spent some time in Del Rio, and maybe the thread would be different if it were on GT..but it isn't.

                                  1. re: 9lives

                                    It's a country wide problem. Which is why I suggested the change of venue.

                                    Should have just stayed out of it. When will I learn:-)

                                  2. re: miss_belle

                                    Because this story has a local news angle, we're fine with it here on the Boston board. You're definitely welcome to start a parallel thread discussing how this issue more widely affects the entire food industry, although Food Media & News is probably the best board for it, if you want to use the article as a launching point for the topic.

                                    1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                      Thank you for that well considered position. The business being discussed has been the topic of many Greater Boston threads - both positive and critical. It's a local business, that we locals decide whether or not to patronize.

                                  3. nowhere does the article state that the workers were "undocumented".

                                    nowhere does the article state that the workers were paid less than minimum wage, denied breaks or forced to work unpaid hours.

                                    nowhere does the article state that there were health or safety violations caused by these workers.

                                    how on earth can you identify an illegal immigrant simply by looking at them or because they may be conversing in not-english to a coworker or customer?

                                    wouldn't somebody with questionable documentation work harder and be more of a stickler for for rules and regs to KEEP his or her job?

                                    the mb's at which i shop have lots of younger kids working there, all of whom are friendly and helpful and come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. i don't need to know their citizenship status to appreciate the different attitude displayed by them vs. the sullen mutes working at the local s&s.

                                    the racist, xenophobic replies on here are really something else. it's the 21st century, people.

                                    even though i worked in restaurants for many years, with LOTS of illegals, that hiring practice is just not as pervasive anymore. homeland security + fines are a big deterrent to most larger companies. i'm guessing this ashland store is an anomaly within the chain and its manager has been, or will be, fired.

                                    11 Replies
                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      Amen!

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        "nowhere does the article state that the workers were "undocumented"."

                                        The press release from IMMIGRATION and CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT flat out says that all of the listed companies were cited and fined for hiring "unlawful employees".

                                        "how on earth can you identify an illegal immigrant simply by looking at them or because they may be conversing in not-english to a coworker or customer?"

                                        A fairly recent study "found an estimated 71 percent of the region's adult Brazilian immigrants living here illegally." [http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/art...]. Even if we dismiss studies and percentages, as I indicated above, I know more than one specific person who is not legally in the US, working at that specific store. Known, specific people, working at a specific location.

                                        "wouldn't somebody with questionable documentation work harder and be more of a stickler for for rules and regs to KEEP his or her job?"

                                        Absolutely. It's that sort of fear that opens the door to all sorts of abuses. There are very real reasons that "unlawful" workers are hired.

                                        "homeland security + fines are a big deterrent to most larger companies."

                                        And, this is a discussion of just that sort of action by Homeland Security, and the fines assessed.

                                        1. re: NE_Wombat

                                          do you not understand the difference between false documents and NO documents?

                                          you're citing a study from 2007? from a 2009 article? from when george bush was president? c'mon... lol.

                                          you know at least one illegal immigrant in that store so that means you can recognize all illegals simply by looking at them? do you not see how that sounds?

                                          the store manager broke the law. he/she got caught.

                                          this is not the place to discuss views on immigration and our country's lack of cohesive policy...

                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                            and it's highly likely that anyone who speaks Brazilian Portuguese is illegal?

                                            Wow, I know some Brazilians who are legal!!!! I only know because they told me what they went through to become legal, not because I asked them.....or cared to ask them. It's none of my business.

                                            1. re: Madrid

                                              and i know plenty of people who are children of immigrants who are equally fluent in their parents' language as they are in english.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                I lived in Spain for two years ... as a student, and legally, didn't work....my Spanish got much better, and I constantly interacted with native speakers in Spanish. But when I was with a native English speaker, it was unnatural not to speak English. I also used English with friends/fellow scholars from Poland because English was our only common language. Well, we could have used French but that would have been a struggle for all of us. People on the subway in Madrid did look at us with curiosity sometimes for speaking English, but this was back in the 80's.

                                                Personally I love it that my Market Basket in Somerville is full of people and employees speaking many different languages, and stocking and shopping for many different foods. I hate the parking lot, but the checkers are great and usually don't have to ask me what is that unusual item. I know how stressful the crowds can be, but I *so* prefer it to Whole Foods. It's one of the reasons I chose to live in the Boston area, and in particular, in Somerville.

                                                I was in Montreal as a young teenager and was fascinated to see a group of three young adults conversing...two in English and one in French. No simultaneous translation, they all spoke French and English but chose to use whatever they wanted at the time. I resolved to someday be able to do that.

                                                When I smell a whiff of marijuana smoke, I don't look around to see who is breaking the law. And that hasn't happened in Somerville for me....

                                                1. re: Madrid

                                                  4-20 and all. :)

                                                  1. re: Madrid

                                                    Well damn, the times I have shopped at the Somerville Market Basket it seems that my Greybeard White guy ethnic group is the one out of place.

                                                    Everybody seems to belong there more than me.

                                              2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                "the store manager broke the law. he/she got caught."

                                                It certainly wasn't only the store manager.

                                                "do you not understand the difference between false documents and NO documents?"

                                                Of course I understand the difference. People with NO documents go on to provide FALSE documents, to become "unlawful" employees.

                                                "this is not the place to discuss views on immigration and our country's lack of cohesive policy..."

                                                But, it is the place to discus "this story [which] has a local news angle, we're fine with it here on the Boston board...[and] how this issue more widely affects the entire food industry"

                                                I'm not sure why *I'm* the bad guy in noting the ICE report and local news-article. I certainly haven't broken the laws. Over the years I formed an opinion based on personal knowledge, observation, and experience. That opinion has been validated by Homeland Security - and you're angry with me. You can hold the opinion that my observations and conclusion are merit less and baseless. All I can do is point you to Homeland Security and ICE. You're still going to be angry with me, but maybe you'll reflect on why.

                                                1. re: NE_Wombat

                                                  i am not angry with you in any way. nor do i see you as a bad guy for providing this link or starting this thread.

                                                  i spent 20 years working in restaurants in boston so have plenty of first-hand experience with all sorts of immigrants of various status.

                                                  at my first job, i remember the gm laughing that a bunch of new kitchen guys all had given him essentially the same ss#. each simply had changed the last digit. he put them through to payroll and that was that. no repercussions. they were paid and treated like everybody else. had taxes taken out of their checks, thereby paying into a system whose benefits they could never access. most of them worked 2-3 jobs and sent most of their money home to support families. many had escaped desperate situations in countries ravaged by war and poverty -- like guatemala and el salvador.

                                                  my last restaurant employer was a voluntary member of the ICE IMAGE program. OH! and the company joined image to save money on insurance. NOT because it was good a citizen or patriotic, etc.

                                                  obviously, times have changed.

                                                  what i find offensive within this thread is people stating they can "spot" illegals. it's no different than assuming the sexuality of a man watching a musical or a woman coaching softball.

                                                  what i find offensive is people assuming somebody with questionable papers would be more lax with food safety than a citizen would.

                                                  hiring managers are not "document detectives". the fines incurred by demoulas seem relatively small and there is no mention in the article of any arrests or pending deportations. there is no mention of wage discrimination or unfair treatment.

                                                  http://www.alipac.us/f12/immigration-...

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    Well said Hotoynoodle. I think the whole thing is much ado about nothing. If people disagree with the something Market Basket has done here..then they are certainly free to stop shopping at the store. That's what I did several years ago when the whole Upper Crust illegal immigrant scandal broke.
                                                    Logically speaking most people understand the difference between sloppy record keeping and illegal activity.
                                                    I've rarely had an unpleasant experience at any Market Basket. I'd much prefer the staff there than in any of their competitors ( except Whole Foods).