Mudcat Café message #2737110 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #115452   Message #2737110
Posted By: Sawzaw
03-Oct-09 - 12:47 AM
Thread Name: BS: Spread the Truth About ACORN
Subject: RE: BS: Spread the Truth About ACORN
Baltimore City Paper:

Sandra Stewart wanted to be paid for the work she'd done. After graduating from Goucher College in May, Stewart followed a professor's advice in obtaining a position, starting on May 22 as a $250-per-week intern at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national social-justice group with a Maryland chapter based in Baltimore. On July 15 she wrote to City Paper, stating that she had left the job because "up until this morning it had been eight weeks exactly that I had not received any payment for my work." That day she had received a $500 check from ACORN, she explained, but was still awaiting payment for the remaining six weeks of service.

It turns out that Stewart wasn't the only one looking for overdue payments from ACORN. At the time a City Paper inquiry began, the organization faced a Baltimore City tax-sale lien on its Charles Village property, a court judgment in Prince George's County for failure to pay a landlord for rented office space, and complaints from several other ex-employees about paycheck problems. By ACORN's own admission that it has been having trouble administering payments to many part-time voter-registration workers it recently hired.

"I find it completely ironic that an organization that fights for social justice" has trouble paying its workers, Stewart wrote.

Since arriving here in 1999, ACORN has organized efforts in Baltimore on several fronts, including downsizing the Baltimore City Council, supporting fair and safe housing for the poor, and pushing for a "living wage" for workers. Stewart's complaint that ACORN wasn't dealing fairly with its own employees, however, had not previously been brought to public attention. By July 21, several days after City Paper had first contacted ACORN about Stewart's complaint, the ex-intern had been paid in full.

At first, Stewart's former bosses-ACORN director Mitchell Klein and Baltimore County coordinator Michelle Moore-blamed the situation on Stewart, saying she failed to submit necessary paperwork. But by July 21, they were accepting fault for not paying Stewart in a timely fashion: "What happened to Sandi was bad," Klein says apologetically.

After hearing of Stewart's complaint, City Paper searched the courts to see if ACORN was having problems making other payments. It was.

On June 22, a nearly $7,000 court judgment was entered against the group in favor of Bradco Realty, the owner of office space ACORN had been renting in Hyattsville.

"They were not paying us," explains Bradco principal Michael Weinberger. "And we got tired of writing letters and making phone calls. Nobody even answered the phone. So we turned it over to a local attorney."

On July 18, just as City PaperUapproached ACORN about the problem, the group paid the $7,000. Klein disputes Weinberger's version of events, asserting that ACORN believed Bradco was overcharging them. "We lost," Klein says. "And now we're paying."

On June 30, another court action was filed against an ACORN affiliate, Baltimore Organizing and Support Center Inc. Short Line 2005 LLC filed a foreclosure lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court against the group, setting in motion a process that could have ended with Short Line 2005 owning ACORN's building at 16 W. 25th St. Information obtained from the city's Finance Department revealed that the support center had not paid real estate taxes, water bills, and other city-administered fees since it purchased the property in 2004. As a result, the city's lien against the support center was sold at tax sale to Short Line 2005 in May 2005, and Short Line filed the suit in order to exercise its right to collect the money the center owed.

"This is the first time I'm hearing about this," Klein stated when asked about the lawsuit on July 19. Later, Maryland ACORN's board chair, the Rev. Gloria Swieringa, thanked City Paper "for pointing out a tremendously erroneous situation that had not been brought to our attention." The same day, ACORN cut a check for more than $18,000 to settle the matter.

At first, Klein stated that the group's failure to keep current on its taxes and other city bills was due to Hurricane Katrina's disastrous impact last fall on ACORN's national offices in New Orleans, where many of the state chapters' finances are administered. However, after researching the matter, Klein learned that in fact the payments had not been made because the bills had been sent to the group's old office at 825 Park Ave., Baltimore Organizing and Support Center's address of record.

After Stewart leveled her complaint about having a hard time getting paid by ACORN, three other ex-employees who recently left their jobs came forward, recalling similar problems. One, a former community organizer who claims ACORN still owes reimbursement money to him, asked to remain anonymous because the group requires workers to sign a statement that they won't talk to the press. (Klein confirms that ACORN's employees are to have "no contact with the media without specific prior approval from a supervisor.") The ex-employee did not want to risk his anticipated repayment by being quoted by name in an article.

"I did have to wait a number of weeks for my paycheck," the ex-organizer says. "And I left because I decided I would no longer put up with their stuff. It seems to be a pretty routine thing." He adds that "people have been getting angry with them for not getting paid."

"I had problems getting paid," Zuri Barnes, 28, also claims. The former community organizer worked for ACORN for seven months, he says, and was owed money after he quit recently. (Klein asserts that Barnes did not properly submit paperwork to get paid.) "I eventually got paid after numerous phone calls and going in and confronting my former boss," he recalls. "I've heard cases of people who are still waiting to get paid. It's a major issue, and it all comes down to administration. And this is a group that does community organizing, and yet it is so disorganized."

Khary Williams, a 24-year-old former ACORN community organizer, echoes the complaints. "I got my money," he says. "It was just very late. I left because I felt like I needed a job where, when it's payday, I get paid."

Klein admits that ACORN "is not perfect," adding that its payroll problems were exacerbated recently when the group ratcheted up its staff with a lot of part-time workers who are registering voters around the state.

"People get paid regularly here, but there are paperwork problems, and it is not the best system in the world," he says. "Obviously, we're not trying to screw people over-we want people to get paid on time. But there are some problems. We try to do the best we can."

Klein, however, expresses surprise about complaints from former community organizers, because they filled salaried positions in a different pay class from the part-time voter-registration workers.

"The voter-reg stuff, sure, we've had some problems there," he says. "But I know that our community organizers get paid. Generally, our payroll does run on a regular basis. Maybe one or two days late, but that's rare."

Asked if he believes the publicity about these problems will lead to more complaints to City Paper about payroll problems, Klein says it will.

"I guarantee it," he predicts. "Everyone's going to complain. But there are a lot of people who like working for us."