Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The 4th nominee for the “Worst Employer of 2023” is … the pizza shop pressurizer

Allegations of forced labor and the physical abuse of employees will always land you on my Worst Employer list.

Last week the feds arrested Stavros Papantoniadis, a/k/a Steve Papantoniadis, the owner of Stash's Pizza, on charges of forced labor related to his employment of an undocumented worker and forcing him to work for more than decade through threats of deportation coupled with physical and verbal abuse. 

The DOJ's press release summarizes the charges:

Victim 1 worked at Stash's Pizza from 2001 to 2015. During his time there, it is alleged that Papantoniadis repeatedly made derogatory comments about Victim 1's religion and violently attacked Victim 1 several times. On one occasion when Victim 1 missed a day of work, Papantoniadis allegedly responded by pushing him to the floor and calling him a "f*cking Muslim." Another time, it is alleged that Papantoniadis kicked Victim 1 in the genitals, causing Victim 1 to suffer severe pain. When Victim 1 sought medical treatment, Papantoniadis threatened to kill Victim 1 or report him to immigration authorities if he did not return to work. On another occasions, Papantoniadis allegedly slapped and choked Victim 1 and broke Victim 1's teeth, causing Victim 1 to have teeth removed and causing him to wear dentures. According to court documents, as a result of the threats and violence, Victim 1 feared Papantoniadis and kept working for him at Stash’s Pizza.

It is further alleged that Papantoniadis "targeted victims who lacked immigration status, employed them at depressed wages and demanded that they work, in most cases, six to seven days per week, at times for far more than eight hours per day and often without breaks or overtime compensation," and "also allegedly withheld wages."

Employees of Stash's Pizza tell WBTS that they don't believe the charges. "What has been charged against my dear friend Steve is beyond shocking, beyond belief and just simply untrue," said Jerry Skordas, manager of Stash's Pizza. In the 35 years he's worked with the Papantoniadis family he says he hasn't "once encountered any maldoing whatsoever." Another employee, Joel Gutierrez, told WBTS in Spanish, "My coworkers and I have been treated very well."

U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, however, sees this case very differently:

Forced labor is a form of human trafficking. It is not a wage dispute. If someone is being compelled to work through the use of force, threats of force, or coercion, that is a federal crime. We allege that Mr. Papantoniadis compelled and threatened victims to work against their will using fear, violence and the threat of deportation. The allegations in this case are horrific. Nobody has the right to violently kick, slap, punch or choke anyone, and certainly not an employer to an employee. 

And that's precisely why this employer earned my 4th nomination for the Worst Employer of 2023.