(Read Part 2 of this series here.)
It’s lunchtime in Factoria, and Top Gun restaurant is serving what made them famous, dim sum. Servers rattle loaded carts around the dining room plying customers with a wide assortment of Chinese delectables such as chicken feet, shrimp dumplings and sticky rice on little dishes.
(photo: Weissbach: still imperious after all these years)
This day, diners in the busy joint can’t help but notice the obnoxious man with the bushy eyebrows loudly hectoring a long-suffering waitress. He complains imperiously about what’s not on the cart, and the quality of what’s there, and makes her run back and forth to the kitchen for fresher and different dishes.
“He was yelling at the lady, and talking down to her. I was embarrassed to be with him” one of the men at the table that day told BlatherWatch, he made sure never to go out with the man again.The jerk was Peter Weissbach, 63, and treating the help like maggots is all in a day's work for the longtime Seattle talk host and operator of Seattle Building Maintenance, a Bellevue-based janitorial service that cleans some of the Puget Sound region’s most prestigious buildings. Like the Seattle Art Institute, Pacific Place, Metropolitan Park, the Dexter Horton and the Westin.
In November, The Seattle Times reported that Weissbach/SBM had been ordered in August by ICE to fire more than 100 of its mostly Hispanic 300 janitors for working without documents. (KVI laid off Weissbach January 22, ostensibly because of their programming reshuffle, but we hope the outing of Weissbach's skeezy and illegal business practices might have had some influence).
ICE’s audit, media exposure, and more scrutiny by the federal government has daylighted SBM’s practices; people we talked to agree that the company’s employment roster is now clean of undocumented workers.
But months ago, we received a damning document drawn up by an attorney, and vetted by investigators for use against Weissbach in a civil case he’d brought against a competitor. Weissbach dropped the case, reportedly, for fear the facts of this document would be exposed.
But Weissbach made the mistake of vindictively giving the document to Federal Prosecutor Don Reno claiming he was being extorted by the competitor. Reno took one look and said something like: this ain’t extortion... but it looks like SBM could use some investigatin'.
Frustrated in the end, sources say, because Weissbach’s expensive legal team was able to undermine the credibility of key witnesses, Reno dropped the case a couple of weeks ago.
BlatherWatch talked with former SBM managers, and others- all of whom asked not to be named, but confirm the document is factual.
It's an insight into how sleazy operators like Weissbach use illegals. Business always claims American workers won't do such lowly work, but this demonstrates that some employers give preference to the undocumented.
SBM systematically hired and exploited workers who, because of legal status complied in fear of losing their jobs or being detained and deported.
Janitors who questioned or complained about these practices were summarily fired- as were such managers- after first being frozen out of the management loop.
An ex-manager describes workers with so little English he needed take another worker away from his work to translate the manager's instructions. When he asked HR asked why he couldn’t get anyone who speaks English, he was told: “[We] don’t hire those kind of people. [We] only hire illegals who mainly speak very little- if any- English.”
In about 2006, the document says Weissbach decided to enhance profits (in an already very profitable business) in order to sell SBM for the highest price possible. A new business plan was installed to make the company look even better on paper, but it depended on defrauding the government and the union.
To cut overhead, they say, SBM started hiring as many undocumented workers as possible, they eventually reached 85-90% of the workforce say former managers. SBM used various scams to obtain valid Social Security numbers, and to hide illegally heavy workloads that undocumented janitors carried for no extra pay.SBM, the document alleges, cut the number of workers on jobs, but illegally increased the remaining janitors’ workloads without paying for more than the legal 8 hours (with breaks and lunch) work.
An especially egregious charge in the document, is that SBM supervisors forced illegal workers to do extra work and had them fill out time cards. On paydays, they demanded the worker turn over the extra money to them in cash.
For SBM, it was an under-the-table bonus for middle management that cost them nothing. Sources say this was happening with Weissbach's full knowledge, but unfortunately unbeknownst to the IRS, or SEIU Local #6.Weissbach, a naturalized American citizen originally from Canada, always offered himself up on the radio as a shining example of an immigrant who escaped a socialist “mommy” state, and had the entrepreneurial pluck to become a thriving, legal American.
Yearning to be free? perhaps. But huddled masses? Definitely not.
Weissbach is a scion of a wealthy Vancouver family, and a longtime broadcaster in British Columbia and Alberta. His shot at citizenship in 1996 wasn’t hurt by his having been green-carded and sponsored by old-line Seattle’s Fisher Communications. He was, of course, already established as a well-paid, afternoon-drive talk host on their KVI, at the time the leading talk station in the market.
A former colleague says, “He lies about getting into the business with one janitor, two nickels in his pocket, ... building [his cleaning] empire from nothing.”
Hardly a bootstrapped start-up, he purchased an up-and-running SBM in 2002. Sources say Weissbach’s wife Carla is on the paperwork as the owner to benefit from her gender "minority owner” status in bidding for certain jobs. (Whether SBM ever used that status for that reason is not known, but it adds to the hypocrisy- as a conservative, Weissbach fundamentally opposes such “affirmative action”).
"Peter believes the laws apply to everyone but him," a former SBM manager says.
Weissbach is arch, sarcastic, condescending, narcissistic, and self-consciously insensitive on-air. He’s no different off-air. “Peter is a tyrant with a God complex,” " a former colleague says. He spouts his right-wing politics in the workplace. A former manager says, “He thinks everybody’s got the same political views as him. If you don’t, you need to listen to him, because he’s right.”
To the chagrin to those present, Weissbach once told the property manager of a big downtown building (a client!) that the world would be a better place if all Muslims were simply, dead. The manager, an African-American woman, is also a Muslim. Other managers at the meeting cringed; the property manager later insisted on dealing only with managers who weren't Peter Weissbach.That's the Weissbach long-time listeners know and love: An ex-employee says, “Everything with him is a one way conversation…[that's why] he likes to be on the radio where if somebody says something he doesn’t like, he can just hit the button... he's like that in his life."
Next in Part 2: How it worked.