Sunday, March 11, 2007

A New Bedford, Mass., clothing and leather manufacturer, whose owner and managers were arrested last week in a massive federal raid on charges of hiring illegal aliens, had reneged on a promise to hire local residents in exchange for $57,000 in tax breaks and the city wants its money back.

Mayor Scott W. Lang told The Washington Times he plans to “get every dime back” of tax benefits the company received as part of a five-year deal in which Michael Bianco Inc. (MBI) promised to hire local residents to fill an expanding work force. The mayor said the city has a long history of supplying skilled workers for needle-trade industries like MBI and he intends to “make sure we keep those jobs here.”

“We have no shortage of people in this town who are skilled, qualified and in the country legally. I intend to keep this company and these jobs in this city even under new management,” Mr. Lang said. “We’re talking about 500 jobs for the city, and I don’t want the greed of one employer to make them go away.”

Mr. Lang said he intends to seek the appointment of a trustee to oversee MBI. He also has called for an audit of all New Bedford businesses awarded tax breaks over the past 10 years to determine whether they are complying with hiring laws. In its last report to the city, in July 2005, MBI said it had created 291 jobs, 270 of which went to New Bedford residents.

Hundreds of federal agents and state and local police, led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), descended on MBI last week with search and arrests warrants, rounding up 361 illegal aliens from among the company’s 500 employees.

Criminal complaints in the case accused MBI owner Francesco Insolia, 50; payroll manager Ana Figueroa, 40; plant manager Dilia Costa, 55; and office manager Gloria Melo, 41, of conspiring to encourage or induce illegal aliens to reside in the U.S. and conspiring to hire illegal aliens.

Luis Torres, 45, also was charged in a separate complaint of providing phony identification papers to workers at the MBI factory.

The complaint said Mr. Insolia maintained a majority-illegals work force and that he intentionally sought out illegal aliens because “they were more desperate to find employment, and are thus more likely to endure severe workplace conditions he has imposed.”

It described some of the workplace conditions as docking pay by 15 minutes for every minute an employee is late; fining employees $20 for spending more than two minutes in the restroom; providing one roll of toilet paper per restroom stall per day; fining employees $20 for leaving the work area before the break bell sounds; and fining employees $20 for talking while working.

MBI received a tax break from New Bedford before Mr. Lang’s election that saved the company $57,000 in property taxes over the past two years. Over a five-year period in which the company would have received more than $80,000 in tax breaks, MBI was to “give preference to qualified New Bedford residents” as the company expanded.

The mayor also questioned how the company, which has been awarded more than $90 million in Defense Department contracts to manufacture products for the U.S. military, could have avoided questions concerning its employees and working conditions from Defense Department quality-control inspectors who regularly visited the plant.

“Federal government inspectors were in the plant on a regular basis, and working conditions and the legality of the work force which spoke four or five languages should have been very apparent,” he said. “They had to realize these were not the typical needle-trade workers, most of whom have been in the country for a very long time.”

In a statement, Mr. Insolia urged the public to “withhold judgment until all of the facts come out” and denied accusations about shabby workplace conditions and the treatment of workers.

He also noted Defense Department quality-control inspectors were on-site up to four days a week and “freely and frequently walked the premises and interacted with our workers without incident or complaint.”

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