Thursday, July 16, 2015

Give Them an Inch and They Take a Foot

This blog has nothing to do with what delectable dish or restaurant I have just discovered. It has something to do with food; in that L'Amande Bakery was the subject of my numerous blogs. This article is about the demise of the American dream. Before you finish reading the article you will be in utter shock and disbelief of the facts and events.

For those unfamiliar with the human trafficking lawsuit, see article published n the Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/local/westside/la-me-guest-workers-lawsuit-20150320-story.html


It is indeed true that the saddest thing about betrayal is that t never comes from your enemies. The 11 employees that were brought to the United States from the Philippines were long time loyal and trusted employees. They came to have a part of the American dream.

The Almeidas established Le Coeur de France, a café and pastry chain in the Philippines in 1994. Through the years, workers have come and gone and the cream of the crop were rewarded with promotions and fringe benefits.  These workers sought help for medical, dental, educational needs and even sought help with assistance during emergencies like, typhoons, floods and earthquakes. Those were freely and willingly given.

Le Coeur grew enough that it was offered a buy-out having become an attractive acquisition for a well-known Filipino food chain. Presented with a chance for an early retirement, the Almeidas took the offer in 2008 on the condition that their staff be allowed to retain their employment; something they clearly did not have to do. After the sale, the Almeidas migrated to Southern California in 2009, one of the workers, a nanny followed shortly. Retirement did not agree with the couple so plans were made for a new venture. In 2010, they shifted visas and became business investors.

The first priority was to offer the specialized positions to their long time employees. They of course were willing, able and could hardly contain themselves on this opportunity. Three of the most senior, tenured and trusted employees from the Le Coeur days were flown in from the Philippines on September 2011.  On April 2012, three years after settling in the U.S., L’Amande Bakery was born and a second expansion later opened on July 2014 in Beverly Hills. This called for additional staffing and this was achieved by inviting the relatives of the workers already here. Again, these people had to be petitioned and flown here at the Almeida’s expense.

The Filipino employees had no place to live and had little starting out, so the Almeidas not only set up the group in apartments but furnished them as well as paid for deposits and several months rent. Goncalo and Ana also provided winter clothing and indulged requests for laptops, tablets and other non-necessities. This was on top of employee perks of free food from L’Amande when they were on duty. Built on past history, there was a comfort level between the Almeidas and their staff. The lines of employer-employee decorum were often blurred by the camaraderie even evidenced by them being friends on their Facebook accounts. Goncalo and Ana often socialized with their extended families. They drove them around and organized trips to New York, the Philippine Consulate and took them on road trips. When invited to stay at the Almeida home, their guest felt so at home that they helped themselves to wine without the knowledge of their host. They took liberties with free food at L’Amande dropping by to eat on their days off. While generally frowned upon by local health codes and insurance liabilities, they took home restaurant leftovers.

The work environment was so relaxed that protocol and rules were being bent. One saying comes to mind: “Give them an inch and they will take a foot”. In late 2014, the Almeidas noticed a Facebook picture of the employees drinking on the job. It was posted online, indisputable and clear as day: Five of the staff in uniform, each holding up a bottle of beer or cocktail while a wall clock in the bakery showed the time of 3:10 p.m. See picture above. Though none of them cooperated during a workplace investigation, the five were terminated on January 2015 – legally, on the strength of self-incriminating documentary evidence.

Two months later, the five of them filed a civil lawsuit against the Almeidas alleging abuses and human trafficking. Their case had been taken on by Latham and Watkins LLP on a pro bono basis, in the hopes of landing a big score from a settlement. Two others who had been laid off in June 2015 when the Beverly Hills store closed, jumped on the band wagon. Remember the nanny who worked for them 13 years, since their youngest son was born and had been away from the Almeidas, that had asked Goncalo to walk her down the aisle when she got married….she too saw the opportunity to get a piece of the action and joined the lawsuit. The other 3 employees are still currently working at the Torrance bakery and am told still continue to bring home leftover restaurant food to the seven now unemployed. Talk about insult to injury!

It gets worse; an advocacy group called Asian Americans Advancing Justice has taken up their cause and making the aggrievement a rallying point. I heard the NGO (non-government organization with a a social objective) has plans to present the 11 as heroes fighting for a noble cause. The main character witness is a young woman (non–Filipino) who was rumored for having a habit of suing former employers on trumped up charges, also a former Torrance branch employee terminated on May 2013 for chronic tardiness, giving away L’Amande products to friends and getting caught changing clothes inside the freezer.

The real victims here are the Almeidas. It is their American dream that has been shattered. Their biggest fault was they allowed themselves to be taken advantage of over and over. Their friendship and generosity were mistaken for weakness.  I am appalled and still in shock on how these people have so far gotten away with an infinity of lies!

While the lawsuit will be drawn out on the chance that the Almeidas will eventually succumb, they can only hope they get a big settlement or win the case but first prove they were “slaves” so they can stay in the country for good ( for those still working at L’Amande, their E-2 visas will be expiring next year and the visas of the ones no longer employed are not valid anymore) and they can work happily ever after and sue the next unfortunate employers!

These are elementary questions that should have common sense answers.

1.       If the Almeidas had been such despicable employers, why did they practically beg them to  come work for them again in the United States
2.       If they had been abused, why did they recommend their relatives to come work for the Almeidas.
3.       Given the pervasiveness of Facebook, why didn’t they post complaints and photos of the wretched living arrangements.
4.       Why didn’t they flee? They had their own apartments, they were in possession of their passports at all times. They were free to go anywhere.
5.       If the Almeidas had been abusive, why invite them numerous times for their get-together at their apartments.
6.       Why didn’t they report the abuse to officials during their trips to the Philippine Consulate.
7.       The one employee who was manager according to the L.A. Times, all of a sudden demoted herself to dishwasher even if she introduced herself as manager and said so in her facebook page. Did anyone ask the many other non-Filipino workers who was their manager?
8.       How can they claim overworked and under-paid when in fact the manager/dishwasher was in charge of payroll, hiring and firing. If this were true, shouldn’t she be solely responsible
9.       Why did the nanny invite the Almeidas to her wedding even if she was no longer employed by them and ask Goncalo to walk her down the aisle.
10.   Finally, why did all the allegations only come out now. Just before visas will be expiring.

My opinion is these employees have had a taste of the American dream. The living conditions they are accustomed to now, cannot be compared to the living conditions in the Philippines. They make enough to send money, etc. to their poor relatives back home which is great. That will all cease when the visas expire. What on earth could they do to stay in the United States permanently?

I rest my case!


14 comments:

  1. I heard similar stories from my Filipino friends in the US. What a shame this Filipino crab mentality.

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  2. how horrible...

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  3. This is just another group; of people that want something for nothing. They are taking advantage of good people for their own gain. They lied and there was proof, What more does this gov't need to ship them back where they came from. The kind heart gets stomped on, went over and above to keep them happy, paid them well and see how they retaliated when they thought they could take advantage and make up falsehoods. Send them home! If this were true they would have complained earlier, once they got what they wanted they turned like vicious wolves on the good people that helped them. This is bull crap!

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  4. Very disturbing and sad....To see one's American Dream, hard work and talent be wasted in such a way rips my heart. I hope they can pull through and will support them.

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  5. Looking at the picture above I'm wondering if the American law allows workers to drink alcohol during working hours. Let's imagine that Gonçalo would not have fired them...What would have said the Law if discovered? They ruined their opportunity to live in the US but because they still want to live here they try to frame Ana and Gonçalo. Why drinking alcohol at work and why did you post a picture on FB? Do you think that you are above the law?
    When I first met Ana and Gonçalo, I noticed how nicely they were treated their employes. Ana was always busy in the kitchen working with her employes, training them and teaching them. Gonçalo used to introduce her as the artist, the one who brings beauty, excellence, quality, creativity, spirit and soul to the place.
    The 11 plaintiffs lost their credibility and their integrity. They did not yet understand that the Lawyers have manipulated them, that they will grab the biggest piece of the cake. The 11 will get a few crumbs, may be a Visa but no job for a long time... Who is going to take the risk to hire them henceforth? What to say about Kate Linthicum the journalist? Did she check the veracity of their allegations? Obviously, not. The truth was not her concern, neither the consequences of her article. Great professional!
    Ana and Gonçalo have all the evidences to prove them right so they have to win the case. Period.

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  6. It sounds like the owners of the bakery that pays $2/hr wrote this rant. Havent you read that they didn't even give the filipino workers the tips they earned? Thats a cheat! They made them sleep on the floor of their laundry room, clean the house, and used as day laborers at their apartments in Long Beach (which I noticed was recently sold for $2.5M). The bakery in BH has closed 6/30! I think they are running away and you might be helping them. If they are innocent,why are they running away like OJ? We all knew he was guilty when he fled. Can you vouch for them when they run off? What a shame....I liked your food blog.

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    1. You haven't seen the pictures of them in their employer's guest room where they stayed; not the laundry room and drank wine (pictures of them posted) Keep in mind the big law firm who took the case that is doing it for free. The owners have exhausted their finances....to fight the case to the end they will need a million dollars minimum. I know, I would have stopped the bleeding if it were me. It's easy to say "fight to the end especially if you know you are right." but it's another thing if you have limited $$$ If a big law firm is willing to go against Latham & Watkins and do it for free just like the 11 filipinos, then I am confident, justice will prevail.

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    2. Yes we have seen the photos so classlessly displayed on facebook, the bakery window, etc. What a classless bunch of bourgeois! Arrogant pricks! Why cant they settle civily like good abiding citizens...because they are goons! Youve been doped. The almeidas are verydeviant and use you all to plan their escape. They had the resources to fight Latham. They sold the apartments for 2.5m, theirhouse for 1.3 all cash and took off tothe philippines and portugal.with 4m intheir pockets. Meanwhile they owe the workers they left behind and the state of california.5m in pay and taxes! Who's the criminal now? Don't give the sob story they cant afford to defend themselves. They had no Iintentions because they are criminals. Check and pay for the court filings to learn the truth.simply google the case and pay for thedocs. It is all there and you are either blind or dumb to acceptthe almeidas are crook. Why donttheycomeback and face the music?

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    3. WOW! You are clearly misinformed. Who told you their house was sold; it has not..clearly you are not aware what it takes to fight the biggest law firm. Those workers are the criminals; they fabricated time cards but not too well as you saw, they clocked out while they were in the beach. Has there been an article written in the bible (L.A. times) since the story broke? Why doesn't the L.A. times or Daily Breeze not take the offer to interview the Almeida's now??? Because they are afraid with all the incriminating pictures out, they will look like fools!

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    4. As another observer in all this, I just have to say that the photos posted on L'Amande's Facebook page do not seem to be consistent with the employees' claims. Further, the bakery owners seem to be the ones willing to share all their evidence while the "wronged" employees have remained silent. Now, I don't claim to know who's right in all this, but I do think you need to consider these things before jumping to conclusions.

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    5. Thank You. Your comment makes a lot of sense!

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  7. L'Amande has closed for good. So what now? Both parties are losers in this phase. The Almeidas lost their business. The complainants are now all unemployed. No more leftovers to take home. Who would employ these freaks?

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  8. At the end of the day this didn't happen in the Philippines where authorities can be bribed by the owners. The truth will come out, and the employers are truly innocent, they would have their day in court, and they don't need press releases like these by friends to fight their battles in the public eye.

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