Fans in the Tampa Bay area that attend games for Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning – along with other sporting events – might want to know that when they order a beer or hot dog at a concession stand, it’s more than likely coming from a homeless person. Not only that, but it’s coming from a homeless person who isn’t getting paid one dime for their work that day.
How can this be? One of Tampa’s largest homeless programs, New Beginnings of Tampa, as a condition for giving out shelter and food in one of their facilities, contracts their “members” to work at various locations. The charitable organization is paid in full for the work that is performed, but the workers do not receive anything.
While it is true that they are given a place to stay, and food to suffice on, the question remains, is their labor being exploited for profit? Some homeless advocate and labor lawyers seem to think so.
Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project, a labor advocacy group, said:
This is outrageous. These workers are doing a job. They need to be treated with dignity.
Some labor lawyers, according to the Times, chimed in:
A company can compensate employees with shelter and food but it needs to document the hours worked and the value of the housing and meals provided in order to ensure that workers at least earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
One of the problems is, Pastor Tom Atchison, founder and current director of New Beginnings, does not currently do this. He does not keep track of the hours being worked.
The other problem is a more vexing one. The investigation that has taken place by the Tampa Bay Times has given several forms of evidence that is placing the organization’s founder in the hot seat.
For one, while it claims to provide counseling to its members, no one that works there is clinically trained to work with addicts or the mentally ill.
An even bigger red flag is that the Social Security checks and food stamp money that is sent in the mail is confiscated by Mr. Atchison, and is never received by its intended beneficiaries, either.
Former New Beginnings employee Victoria Denton had this to say via Bucs Nation:
I don’t lie. What I saw was wrong. If a check comes in, it doesn’t matter if it’s your name, my name, or Timbuktu’s name, it’s going in his [Atchison’s] name.
Lee Hoffman, a former New Beginnings resident and minister says that Atkinson, who is also the Pastor for New Life Church, keeps everyone’s social welfare benefits, even if they amount to more than what the residents owe in program costs.
He would say they’re drug addicts, they’re alcoholics, they’re just going to spend it on cigarettes and booze. The only way they get any of it is if they complain hard enough.
The Pastor claims that he is giving people a chance to get back to work, that “it’s a tough job market.” He seems to think a lot of good is happening based on what he is doing. Atchison said:
I should be making $100,000-plus a year, and not apologizing for it. I deserve it.
He does acknowledge, though, that the workers should be getting paid for what they do and wishes he could do that.
I’ve been feeling bad. For 15 years, all these people have worked their butts off, and have nothing. . . . And they are all happy. Oh, Pastor Tom, you saved my life, I’ll do anything for you. . . . But it shouldn’t be that way. We want to start giving people a future.
Currently, the teams that are allowing New Beginnings to work for them are reviewing the Christian-based organization’s practices and will decide whether or not they will continue their working relationship.