Everything might appear cheery on the surface at the Upper Crust pizzeria. As we reported just last week, the local empire has plans to expand to the North Shore, and its industrious delivery cyclists can be seen pedaling all over town like characters from a Dickens novel. However, its ongoing legal woes pertaining to its alleged exploitation of illegal immigrants has been brought to further light in a damning new Globe article.
According to the piece, the pizzeria hired scores of illegal immigrants from a small Brazilian village and proceeded to exploit them in a variety of ways. For people in Marilac, Brazil, it seems scoring a gig with Upper Crust was once akin to getting into Harvard: It might take some doing, but once in, the promise of a bright future seemed assured. Many workers huddled together in East Boston apartments, happy to have jobs and money to send back home.
But all was not as it seemed at Upper Crust. The story paints a picture of a ruthless founder who enforced 80-hour workweeks without raises while treating himself to boats and private planes. Meanwhile, he allegedly threatened to report his illegal workers to the authorities should they complain about their brutal working conditions. Some cooks, according to the story, even toiled 100 hours per week.
A Labor Department investigation commenced in 2009; Upper Crust was forced to pay nearly $350,000 in back wages to more than 100 workers, many of them from Brazil. Per the Globe, Upper Crust insisted that the immigrants surrender the government-ordered checks for overtime pay ... or else. Then, Upper Crust began drastically reducing weekly paychecks to recoup the federally ordered payouts, sometimes paying a mere $5.70 an hour, or $2.30 below minimum wage.
For more on the saga, check out the article.
Harmony Gives Way to Exploitation Charge Against Upper Crust [Globe]