For a minute there, it looked as if the guys were finally going to get paid in June when City Councilmen Jim Kenney and Mark Squilla stepped in. The mostly ex-cons weren't paid a prevailing wage on a city contract to clean up blight in 2003, and they should get paid, the Council members said.
But then city contractor Garnett Littlepage appealed and the already slow-moving bureaucracy went molasses.
So far, these guys have lost 18 hours before the city Board of Labor Standards as Littlepage appeals a case he's lost multiple times. At minimum wage, that's about $130.50 in frustration money per guy. Way more if we charge for the 10-year wait. And this after the city's Labor Standards Unit requested that the workers be paid "without further delay."
The checks never made it into the mail. And there we were again, yesterday, in a soul-sucking meeting room on the 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building, watching the minutes of our lives tick away.
But then, at least the clock in that room actually works. In a City Hall courtroom, where I've accompanied another citizen seeking help dealing with a neglectful neighbor, time literally stands still with a clock that is forever stalled at 6 o'clock.
The symbolism here can crush your spirit faster than tallying all the luxuries well-paid lawyers rack up during proceedings like this one. Hour one, fancy dinner with the spouse at Del Frisco's. Hour two, a couple of nice ties at Boyds Philadelphia. By hour 18, Littlepage's lawyers can spring for suits a lot nicer than the ones they're wearing to these endless proceedings. I'm just sayin'.
But hey, what's the rush right? All the folks on the city payroll are getting paid, however fast or slow they get things done. Littlepage continues to get paid through multiple city contracts he still holds.
Even I'm getting paid. The only people not getting paid are the citizens seeking justice.
Until yesterday I wasn't sure what to make of the Board of Labor Standards. But then somewhere between kill-me o'clock and half-past God-help-me, board chairman Michael McAnally chastised senior Law Department attorney Michelle Flamer for repetitive questioning. Although I found it interesting he didn't go after Littlepage's lawyers for doing the same thing, at least it was an irrefutable sign of life. Now we were getting somewhere, I thought.
But then the bewitching hour of 1 p.m. arrived and board members wrapped up proceedings for the day. While they huddled over smartphones trying to coordinate the next date to continue the hearings, the workers chimed in.
How about tomorrow? a few of the workers seated behind me suggested. Or the day after? One of the men wondered if they were just trying to drag this on so the workers would get disgusted and give up.
But these guys don't have that luxury. The $188,000 owed about 40 workers is life-changing money. They can't afford to walk away. They have to work for every cent they get, and sometimes, apparently, even the ones they don't get.
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