A few dozen workers from a call center in Warsaw are on the lookout for Michal Lopatin (and his wife Anita Stelmasiuk). PL Outsourcing, the company run by Lopatin, had been behind on paying some employees starting at the beginning of 2016. By the summer, the firm stopped making payments. Lopatin and his wife (from whose account many were paid) took off, leaving the workers without any salary, and went off to live in Santa Monica, California. Workers are trying to get what they are owed and ask for the help of their fellow workers in the US to help track this deadbeat boss down.
The call center was one of many fly-by-night operations set up by young entrepeneurs in Poland to make a quick buck. Such operations often look like decent startups to workers desperate to get any job. They usually make big promises to employees, but close down after some while, often leaving people without their wages. The 31-year old Lopatin has already been involved in owning/running three similar enterpresises: PL Outsourcing, Perfect Outsourcing and Kings of Sales. Technically, PL Outsourcing and Perfect Outsourcing are two separate legal entities, but they were in fact the same, run by the same people, in the same place. Such legal manouevres are often used by business people to transfer workers betweeen legal entities, to avoid legal obligations.
People who were employed at PL Outsourcing were often promised that they would be employed after a three-month trial period. But usually workers were instead put on civil contracts. As „contractors” instead of employees, the workers did not receive holiday pay, sick leave or other benefits due to them. However, the actual work down should have been recognized as an employment contract. Other problems came up due to the fact that the workers later found out that Social Security payments had not been made for them. In addition, neither were payments into the guarantee fund. The boss skipped town, leaving people without the work certificates needed to claim unemployment benefits and without any possibility to claim emergency aid to workers from banrupted companies. Lopatin, in fact, did not announce the company's bankruptcy. In Poland, the technical state of bankrupticy occurs when you cannot pay your debts, including debts to workers. Failure to fulfill the legal procedures at this point is an economic crime.
Luckily for Lopatin, his wife Anita won the green card lottery and the couple packed their bags and settled into a new life in Santa Monica. One can read about how wonderful life is for the pair, among other places, on Anita's blog. www.waytousa.pl While the self-styled „enterpreneurs” have been enjoying vacations to Italy, or sun and the beach in their new homes, the former employees of the call center and still struggling to get out of the debt incurred when Lopatin packed up and fled.
Maybe Michal and Anita think that nobody is going to be able to get their money all the way over in California and that the people who got screwed will just write off their losses. After all, it is very hard to get them over there. Hard, but not impossible. It is also clear that not being here, any and all legal action taken against them will work to the workers' benefit.
Lopatin nowadays is somehow connected to landscaping. It is not clear whether he has decided to actually do some hard work himself, or whether he still has entrepeneurial ambitions and intends to get other people to work for him. He is listed as working out of 12920 West Magnolia Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.
In order to attempt to get their money back, the couple needs to be located. All information would be appreciated.
In the meanwhile, wage theft continues to be a serious problem in this country. ZSP, a base union, has been the only organization where workers have been able to effectively recover money owed. Sometimes this is possible by taking direct action. Direct action means, among other things, that we won't stay silent about incidents like this.
Don't let yourselves be cheated by the bosses! Organize and take action! Solidarity is our weapon!
Last month we wrote about money workers left high and dry by MarcPol supermarkets received after an action where they blocked the entrance the market in downtown Warsaw. All of the workers who took part in the action actually received money - more than 100,000 zloties in total.
Unfortunately, not all workers owed money have received any yet. This shows, once again, that those that choose to take action are more likely to get something that does that don't. We still hope that the others will at least get some payment from a special fund that deals with these things, but it has been almost six months already.
The schemes set up by the state that are meant to "protect workers" are doing a lousy job. First of all, they do not guarantee compensation in the total amount of their wages and second of all, they take their time. The court tends to appoint people who get paid whether or not they do their jobs in helping workers to recover money.
With this experience in mind, ZSP calls on workers to organize themselves and to stop taking such abuse! When the organized take action, they are more likely to achieve results!
Over the last few months, our comrades from ZSP working in the Post Office have been coordinating with other workers around Poland, outside the mainstream unions. A number of protests have taken place in different cities in Poland which have included pickets, sick-in strike actions, go-slows, banner drops and direct action on the job.
The MailCarrier.pl Network and in particular, the organizations in Czestochowa, Poznan and Gdansk have sent demands again to the Post Office. Among the demands are wage increases and actions against the practices of staff cuts and creating a "grey area" of workers in the PO. They also demand the dismissal of the Network Director in Warsaw who scandalously tried to repress those who planned protest and strike actions in Warsaw.
The ZSP, which includes postal workers in a few cities, is active in supporting the development of the network and expresses its contempt at the Director who is spying on and threatening workers. Warsaw ZSP is coordinating a response.
More to follow.
The ZSP continues to act in the Tenants Defense Committee (and Tenants Action in Wroclaw) against the attacks on the the ill, retired and unemployed and the low-earning working class who live in public housing, carried out by those who want to commercialize housing, privatize it and gentrify neighbourhoods.
The last few months saw and increase in activity has corruption scandals rocked the country. The Committee has been exposing the criminal actions of a privatization mafia which involves public officials, lawyers, real estate speculators, prosecutors and judges for years. However, politicians denied these facts and for years tried to portray this all as the rantings of radicals. However, the media finally published irrefutable proof supporting our claims and the privatization mafia has become well-established in the public record (despite the fact that many of those involved have slipped through the cracks and have managed to keep their positions).
Members of ZSP would like to briefly reply to the smear campaign waged by a marginal anarchist zine entitled „Amor y Rabia” and the magazine "Prisma" published by the Amor y Rabia group from Valladolid.* Outrageously, Amor y Rabia usurps the right to write about matters claiming to express the „perception of the CNT”, without being any mandated organ of that Federation. The article being spread (among other places on the ALB forum in Spain) is an attack on the IWA, but in particular, contains lies, aimed against the workers of our Federation and our region.
The manipulative „Amor y Rabia” labels our Federation (ZSP) a „miniscule organization” claiming we are many times fewer than we are in reality. In fact, this media de manipulation singles out the unions of Eastern Europe as examples of „pseudounions”, each time lowering their actual membership to support their narrative. Other member Sections of the IWA are not singled out or criticized, despite the fact that they are all smaller than we. Not that we care to be dragged into such stupid games and compare ourselves to others, but it is clear that the false information is aimed at particularly our union and comrades from Eastern Europe. In our opinion, this shows an intense prejudice towards workers from our region, one unfortunately displayed on more than one occasion. That such prejudices appear in such a manner is a clear assault to the principles of internationalism and mimic the tactics of nationalists and labor protectionists.
Members of ZSP and the Union of Psychiatric and Addiction Workers at the SPZOZ Hospital in Bielsko-Biala have called off a planned strike after receiving a 200 zl. (45 euro) a month raise. However, the workers still are in conflict with the hospital and do not exclude the possibility of strike action next year.
Workers have been demanding a higher wage increase, even if this increase should be introduced in stages. Moreover, only part of their other postulates were fulfilled. The hospital received 21 demands in total, most having to do with health and safety of the workers and patients in the facility.
Comrades have also complained about the methods of dealing with the workers on the part of the hospital administration. Partially they feel that the director of the hospital is trying to divide workers by treating different professions separately. The strategy of our union has always been to unite all professions in the same workplace whereas almost all health care unions in Poland are divided by profession.
Recently, ZSP, our comrades in Holland from Vrije Bond and comrades from Priama akcia in Slovakia are receiving more and more information about new problems with the work agency OTTO Workforce. Often this has to do with not being provided with enough work (or work at all) after arriving in Holland.
These problems no longer concern primarily workers from Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, but also now from Spain, as the agency is also targetted unemployed and desperate workers from that country. Workers from Spain, who were recruited through "Temporales" - a fly-by-night agency in Madrid - wound up employed in Holland by OTTO. Although they were promised a certain number of hours per week and assumed they would be earning something, the actual contracts provided no guaranteed hours. However, they oblige workers to pay for lodging and health insurance - regardless of whether or not they are given any work.
Some workers decided to take action after falling into debt with OTTO. We are calling on OTTO to cancel the debts of the workers who were promised work, but not given it by the agency. Some of these people literally had no money for food and had to borrow money to return home. We are also calling on the agency not to charge workers for housing in such circumstances that they fail to provide work and to incorporate guaranteed hours into their contracts.
The unions which have previously taken action against exploitation at OTTO, plus comrades from CNT-AIT in Spain, will soon start an international campaign aimed at warning workers and changing the practices of the agency.
We are happy to inform that workers from MarcPol Supermarkets who blockaded the supermarket in downtown Warsaw in August have finally received some money. The supermarket chain, which claimed it was bankrupt and hadn't paid workers, was still doing business and selling off assets to other companies with ties to it. Hundreds of workers were left without salaries for a couple of months.
However the workers have not received all the money they were owed and haven't received any compensation for vacation equivalent. Therefore the conflict remains against the former owner, who still runs active business interests.
There also remains a huge problem of workers whose companies go into bankruptcy as a business strategy. Often they are selling and transferring assets and stop paying workers for months before shutting down. This activity, which is literally criminal, usually goes with no consequences for the owners, which has encouraged the spread of these practices. After MarcPol, the Alma chain has also left workers high and dry and there is news that other chains may follow.
Supermarket Workers in ZSP have successfully fought against unpaid overtime and other violations in Dino supermarkets. Starting next year, the union will campaign against the practice of shady bankruptcies in this sector and others.
The ZSP-IWA has been taking part in protests against the possible introduction of draconian anti-abortion laws. These laws would mean a total ban on abortion, even in cases where the baby would be stillborn or the mother could die, in cases where the woman was a child, the victim of rape or incest. It would criminalize not only abortion since miscarriages would be viewed as suspect, require an investigation and also a possible prison sentence. Birth control would also come under fire.
The proposals were made through a citizen's bill, which hundreds of thousands of people supported. An opposing bill was also sent to Parliament which would liberalize abortion rights. However, there was not enough support for it and it was thrown out. Despite the fact that some politicians are trying to make political capital on opposing the total ban, there are few that support more liberal laws. There is some division though in the ruling party and they plan to work on a less drastic tightening of the laws which would still allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or serious threat to a woman's health, but not in cases where a baby would have serious birth defects or might be born dead.
In response to this situation, many protests have been held in Poland. Most attracted large crowds for local conditions. Another idea was to call for a women's strike. Like the lmmigrant's Strike in UK, this was an idea rather pushed by the media and not the result of any action of labour organizations. Unlike the completely failed idea in the UK, this idea has gathered some support and it is likely that some workplaces will be shut down, at least for part of the day.
Two workers have won their cases against Citibank in Poland. Three people had sued the company – for discrimination of a worker after paternity leave, for mobbing and for sexual harrassment. The court found in favour of the two workers who claimed discrimination and mobbing and awarded them significant compensation. In the case of the discrimination case, the victory is especially significant as there is widespread pressure at work for men not to take paternity leave – a pressure which reinforces patriarchal practices in the society and which penalizes men who might want to share parenting responsibilities.
Citibank has appealed the decision.
A third case, held separately in another city, has been dropped. Unfortunately, issues of sexual violence are not treated very well and it is often an ordeal to see such a case through to the end. However, we hope that even the starting of the case has sent a clear signal to the bank that such practices should never be tolerated.
We remind people also of the repressive response of Citibank towards activists of ZSP and other workers when exposing the situation. The bank tried to start a criminal case against members of the union, who were threatened and questioned by police. We think that the bank would be better off taking definitive measures against harrassment at their workplace; since this success, more workers have contacted us with the intent of suing the bank.