Foster: The case of Trump and the Polish workers

Donald Trump has richly deserved his reputation for cheating employees and small business owners who have worked on his properties over the years. Now we have evidence that he’s a total hypocrite dealing with immigrant workers at his properties.

In August, U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska ordered the release of documents from a case that started nearly 40 years ago when Trump hired hundreds of undocumented Polish immigrants to demolish a New York City building in 1980. That building site became the location of Trump’s ritzy Trump Tower, where he lives in a luxurious penthouse apartment.

Trump paid the workers as little as $4 an hour without providing proper safety equipment to do the job, according to the court documents. The workers and their contractor, William Kaszycki & Sons, sued Trump for unfair labor practices in 1983. After litigation dragged on for 15 years, Trump ultimately paid $1.375 million to settle the case.

“We worked in horrid, terrible conditions,” said Wojciech Kozak, one of the undocumented workers, in a story first reported by The New York Times. ”We were frightened illegal immigrants and did not know enough about our rights.”

The settlement was kept under seal for nearly two decades before the judge acted on a motion by Time Inc. and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

According to court testimony, Trump took notice of Kaszycki and his crew of 200 undocumented Polish workers at another job site. Trump hired the contractor for his demolition job on Fifth Avenue starting in January 1980 to make way for his 58-story tower.

Many of the laborers later testified that they often worked 12- to 16-hour shifts without gloves, hardhats or masks. Their job was to break up concrete floors and rip out electrical wires, cut pipes and work in an area filled with dust and asbestos.

The suit came about after Kaszycki stopped paying the men. The workers eventually took their complaints to an attorney named John Szabo who took the issue straight to Thomas Macari, a vice president in the Trump Organization. Macari then began paying the men in cash in order to avoid a shutdown on the worksite, according to the Times.

Trump later testified that he did not know “that there were illegal aliens” working at his demolition site, an assertion refuted by Szabo, who said Trump threatened to have the men deported through his lawyer.

Szabo eventually got the Labor Department to open a wages-and-hours case for the workers that ended up winning them a $254,000 judgment against Kaszycki. Another worker later brought a case against Kaszycki in federal court where a judge ruled Trump was the legal employer of the undocumented Polish workers.

After years of litigation, three rounds of discovery, extensive motions, a 16-day trial and two appeals, Trump decided to settle.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, he frequently boasted that while he had been sued many times (more than 3,600 times, according to USA Today), he had “never settled.” That lie was quickly debunked during the campaign when Trump coughed up $25 million to settle fraud charges against his Trump University.

On the subject of the Trump Tower, there’s some interesting news that might not set too well with the Donald who has taken special delight in overturning many policies enacted during President Obama’s term. More than 300,000 New Yorkers have petitioned City Hall to rename the portion of Fifth Avenue fronting the Trump Tower to “President Barack H. Obama Avenue.”

If the petition is successful, all residents of the tower including Trump will have to change their permanent mailing addresses.

— John D. Foster, a Carthage resident and former editor of the Panola Watchman, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum. Email jandmfoster@yahoo.com .

Today's Bible verse

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

— Psalm 42:11

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