A coaltion of labor and religious leaders want to meet with New York State Fair Director Dan O'Hara over allegations that a food vendor was involved in "human trafficking."
After meeting with two Mexican migrant workers at the fair last August, Rebecca Fuentes of the Workers' Center of Central New York tipped off state and federal investigators to look into the hiring and labor practices of Pantelis Karageorgis, who owns Peter's Fine Greek Food. "They were pretty much defrauded." Fuentes told reporters Thursday. "They were in Mexico, they were offered a job, they were shown a contract which said they were going to get paid $10.70 an hour and that they were going to work 40 hours a week."
Instead, Fuentes said the 19 migrants operating the Peter's Greek Food stands often worked 17 hour days for as little as a dollar an hour at the State Fair and several other fairs and carnivals during the summer. Federal prosecutors charged Karageorgis with a criminal complaint that also accused him of threatening to deport the workers if they complained. The charges were recently dismissed after Karageorgis reportedly agreed to pay the migrants.
According to State Fair officials , Peter's Fine Greek Foods had three locations throughout the fairgrounds for the last six years. Spokesman Fred Pierce also says the State Labor Department has a presence during the fair and investigates such claims of labor law violations.
Tim Fay of the Central New York Labor Religion Coalition says the organization has written O'Hara requesting a meeting. "Our hope is that we'll be able to meet with officials of the State Fair that can influence and have an effect on vendors (and) who they're bringing in to work those couple of weeks."
Pierce said O'Hara is willing to meet with the group and wants the State Labor Department involved.
Karageorgis who lives downstate, has not returned our calls.
The Labor Religion Coalition points out that the charges were "dismissed without prejudice." The coalition says that means the State Attorney General can bring state charges against him.
Fuentes says the workers are filing a class action suit naming Karageorgis and Peter's Fine Greek Food.