October 6, 2003

Ho Plaza Hosts 2nd Pizza Rally

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A handful of local groups gathered last Friday at noon on Ho Plaza to publicize allegations made against Collegetown Pizzeria, accusing the eatery, located on College Ave., of numerous workers’ rights violations. The protest drew a crowd of about 50 attendees who listened to speakers call for action against the alleged violations.

“We’re holding the rally today not only to report these allegations to the students, … but also to educate the public that workers not only in Ithaca but around the world … should be treated with respect and dignity,” said speaker Michael Casaus grad, chair of the U.S. Latino/Latina Graduate Student Coalition.

The rally was also intended to encourage workers who may be victims of rights violations to seek out local groups for support.

“We’re hoping that other workers at this establishment or at any other establishment in Ithaca, after hearing about this, … will come forward,” Casaus said.

Speakers at the event included Philip Fiadino and Rev. Kenneth Clark of Cornell United Religious Work, as well as student representatives from the Committee on U.S./Latin American Relations (CUSLAR), the Workers’ Rights Center, the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition, La Asociacion Latina, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) and Asian Pacific Americans for Action.

The accusations against Collegetown Pizzeria were made by the Workers’ Rights Center after three of the restaurant’s employees contacted the organization over the course of the last year. The workers told the local agency that they were paid below minimum wage, denied overtime pay and forced to work in excess of 70 hours per week. According to Casaus, one of the workers was fired after he requested a day off. Workers also claimed that they had been housed on mattresses in the basement of the pizzeria and were subjected to verbal abuse.

Casaus said that the owner of the establishment, Khalid Attia, had been receptive to the complaints at first but had grown unresponsive over the last several weeks. Local groups have informed the Office of the New York State Attorney General, which is currently conducting an investigation into the matter.

Friday’s protest was held in conjunction with the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a series of rallies held in Washington and New York City to advocate for immigrant workers’ rights. In addition to the speakers, participants carried signs and passed out cards to students crossing the plaza.

“I’m completely shocked,” said Cornell employee Sayla Cavila, who stopped to speak with protesters. “Especially in someplace like Ithaca that’s supposed to be so liberal. I’m really surprised and I hope that it does make headlines.”

Ithaca college student and CUSLAR member Lauren Bosford echoed those sentiments, saying, “It’s absurd that a lot of people don’t know about it yet. It’s really important for this to get out there, that this is happening at Cornell and people don’t know about it. It’s completely unjust.”

Others who gathered to listen to the speakers, however, felt that the protesters were too quick to publicize unproven allegations. “I think that this event was based on a wild assumption,” said Elliot Reed ’05, chair of the Cornell Republicans and rally attendee. “I think it’s kind of sad that [the protesters] are using what may actually be legitimate worker concerns as a base … to work people up into a froth. I think this area is already hostile enough to local businesses.”

Casaus said that the protesters were not seeking to close Collegetown Pizzeria. “Our intention is not to shut this place down. … They employ several workers. We support local businesses. We just want to send the message that … we’re not going to stand for these alleged labor law violations.”

Archived article by Jeff Sickelco