It’s a local story of the outrageous exploitation of foreign workers working illegally, but it’s more than that- a blueprint for what's probably going on all over the country.
It demonstrates how invested corporate interests can be in the status quo of look-the-other-way immigration policies. Employers who follow the rules have a real disadvantage.
Legal paths to citizenship, or guest worker programs (“amnesty” to right-wing media) would mean losing corporate leverage over this cheap, vulnerable workforce, and would trim points off their margins of profit.
Here are some scams and schemes used by SBM:
(This is based on a document vetted by an attorney’s investigators from a civil suit Weissbach/SBM brought against a competitor. We talked to ex-supervisors and managers for this series who'd quit or were fired because they questioned or complained about Weissbach's sleazy, and illegal practices. Most agree that ICE's audit, media exposure, and other scrutiny by the feds sufficiently daylighted SBM’s scummy practices, and their employment roster is probably clean of undocumented workers).
$cam One: shaking down undocumented workers
The most egregious conduct by Weissbach and his company as chronicled in the document (and confirmed by ex-employees and former managers) has got to be the illegal, secret, tax-free bonuses for middle managers and supervisors paid by illegal workers toiling many hours for free. (If the system was not actually set up by Weissbach, he, at the least, looked the other way).
Here’s how it works: Salaried supervisors are responsible for extra work that needs to be done, but for some reason can’t be finished in the regular schedule. According to the document, supervisors, overseen by SBM Operations Manager R*** ****** forced illegal workers to do the work and turn in time cards for doing it. On payday they demanded janitors hand over the money in cash. The illegals have no recourse- they’ll be fired if they complain. Our sources say that R*** ****** is in charge of time cards, controls and coordinates this scam with at least four other supervisors J , A , D , and J .
We can’t say if these SBM supervisors report these kickbacks to the IRS as income, but why would they? This appears simply as under-the-table, tax-free cash for the bosses. By blind-eying it and letting it occur, Weissbach can enrich his supervisors’ income and mitigate the costly bother of giving them raises.
Since the worker is afraid of being exposed or fired, he rarely complains and allows himself to be extorted.
The immigration scams most likey stopped after SBM ICE bust; but it’s doubtful, say our sources, that the kick-backs have ceased.
$cam Two: “high performance green cleaning”
When Weissbach decided to sell the company in 2006, he decided, according to sources, to make the highly profitable business look even better on paper.
From the document:
"Peter Weissbach wants to sell to the highest bidder. To maximize the value of SBM, all of the foregoing conduct is designed to - on paper - make SBM look like an incredibly profitable business. In fact, the business is incredibly profitable but it is through the above-described illegal means and methods that SBM is so profitable. Of course, none of the foregoing will be explained to potential buyers. [They] will be defrauded into believing SBM is based on illegal labor and hiring practices.”An unwitting buyer would not realize “the nature and scope of the integral illegal labor and hiring practices” until it was too late to do anything about it. By then, Weissbach would be long gone and if they blow the whistle, “they will collapse and destroy SBM.” As well as putting themselves “… in the crosshairs with the authorities…”
It started when Weissbach and his managers attended a seminar on “Team Cleaning,” held by San Francisco cleaning guru Jeff Campbell. For professional housecleaners, and janitors, it’s an efficient assembly line approach where each cleaning team member does a single task on a job (or floor of a building) instead of everyone doing all tasks.
According to the doc, Weissbach knew his workload violations would eventually be exposed, so he perverted Campbell’s method to suit his needs. Since there are no national averages developed for a worker doing a specific task per job, he called his new program “High Performance Green Cleaning,” (HPGC) and retrained workers enabling SBM to hide the illegal workloads.
(The building maintenance industry has established standards and industry-wide metrics for calculating work hours per employee per square foot of office space. The ISSA (International Sanitary Supply Association) national average standard is about 4500 square feet per hour (or sfph) that a cleaner be reasonably expected to clean. (In Seattle, it’s 5000 sfph). Former SBM managers say that Weissbach’s illegal workers averaged between 8 and 9000 sfph. That’s impossible, they say, in a lawful workday unless they work at breakneck speeds, skip breaks and lunch and work more than 8 hours. The old sfph workload measures used by the union, SEIU Local 6 became useless under SBM’s HPGC program).
We’re told that Weissbach was so proud of this scheme, he arrogantly bragged to SBM managers that he “fooled the union” so completely that it’d take them “at least two years” to catch on.
$cam Three: the “no match” social security number shell game
When SBM got notification from the government advising them a Social Security number used by a worker didn’t match his or her name, or belonged to somebody dead or known to be working elsewhere, Weissbach, it’s alleged, created a policy to keep the undocumented worker on the payroll.
When an employee’s SS number turned up a “no-match,” Weissbach’s Human Resources department started a 90-day process by sending the worker a series of 5 letters apprising him or her that they must “correct the problem,” or be terminated after the last letter. In reality, the worker was rarely actually fired, or fired only on paper. SBM helped the worker “correct the problem” by using one of three methods.
1) was for the employee to come up with a valid SS number. SBM asked for no explanations, such as: where did you get this number and why didn’t you use it in the first place? There was no required proof that the new number really belonged to him or her. All it had to be was a valid SS number.
2) was for the “no-match” to change his name, and come up with a new SS number. If the number was valid one — no matter it didn’t match the employee’s name — or that they already knew him by an old name, he or she was accepted by SBM as a new employee. A manager told us that it got very confusing. “José Martinez would come to work every day, then one day, he wouldn’t be José Martinez anymore- he’d be José Rafael, or José Garcia. ‘I’d say what happened?’ He’d say, ‘my Social’s no good.
3) was the “preferred” and the most outrageous. Here, the "no-match"worker allowed himself to be terminated, but actually never stopped working. A manager said that when [a worker] had been there long enough to make journeyman’s wages ($12 ph) he’d be told his SS was no good and that he needs another one. “The guy would pay somebody for another number, fill out another application, and be knocked back down to $8 because he’s a ‘new hire.’”
$cam Four: phony social security numbers verification
Most employers check a worker’s eligibility by using the government’s free E-Verify to validate SS numbers, and match them with the employee’s names. But former SMP staffers told BlatherWatch that Weissbach, with the entrepreneurial pluck and innovation he blabs about constantly, found a way around reporting honestly. Searching long and hard, he found, incredibly, a company who’d verify SS numbers’ without matching them to the name of the person trying to use it.
It cost Weissbach extra money for the service, but it paid off and made it easy to simply give these “good” numbers to any employee who might need one. (And there were plenty of those).
SBM also blatantly disregarded that IDs and SS cards that were obviously bogus. The document alleges that SBM found a company who’d accept numbers even if they were “virtually written on a notecard in crayon.”
A former employee confirms the document’s claim that when Weissbach was nervous about being exposed, he quickly went back to E-Verify. But so many SBM employees came up “no match,” that when “the coast was clear,” he switched back to the numbers-only service.
$cam Five: exploiting illegal workers’ fear of exposure
The document alleges that when Weissbach/SBM won a contract to clean a building, he immediately cut the number of cleaners. Employees, of course, are his biggest overhead; and Weissbach made these reductions across the board- without regard to the time it actually takes to do the work in lawful 8-hour workloads.
Here’s where having employees living in fear really pays off!
Fewer workers meant they couldn’t possibly finish the work in a building unless they work more than eight hours without breaks, and lunch. In fear of losing their jobs, (not to speak of deportation) the workers cleaned at break-neck speeds, and often for more than the legally-proscribed 8 hours. SBM paid nothing additional for time worked over eight hours… let alone overtime pay.If an illegal cleaner complained, he or she was fired. If they didn’t complain but didn’t finish the work in 8 hours because they took lunch and breaks, they were fired. If the worker took no lunch and breaks, worked more than 8 hours and complains she or he did it to finish the impossible workload demands, she’s given a formal warning for a) failing to take proper breaks; b) failing to take proper lunch breaks; or c) being in the building past the authorized time. (!)
Undocumented workers, therefore, do not complain.
$cam Six: concealing from the union that fewer workers are doing more work
As mentioned above, SBM/Weissbach would take over the cleaning of a building, and automatically cut the headcount and increase the workload of the remaining workers. Union rules say that the new company must retain existing workers, and it’s standard industry practice to do so. It makes sense: they’re experienced in the building and keeping them in place should mean a more efficient workforce and a smoother transition.
But SBM policy, it’s alleged, was to replace the old workers in a newly-acquired building as soon as possible with illegals. When SBM would take over, they’d split up the entire old work team, and send them to other buildings. According to the document, “These workers are then pushed until they quit, or complain,and … complaints lead to termination. Meanwhile the new SBM building is staffed with illegal aliens.”
When any new company takes over a building, the union has 60 days to assess workloads. If, after that period, the union hasn’t filed a workload grievance, the 60 days is like a statute of limitations that bars them from filing one. That means, that SBM needed only hide their illegal workloads for 60 days.
So Weissbach got through the first 60 days of a contract like this:
If, say, the building has a workers’ head count of 16, SBM will automatically cut that back to 13, giving the staff an illegal workload. SBM then had to hide from the union that the “Full Time Equivalency’ (FTE) of work for each worker has been suddenly and drastically increased.
To maintain the appearance that there’s the legal and contracted headcount to do the work, Weissbach brings in three janitors that he calls “utilities” workers. These workers are only worked periodically, and don’t perform the routine work of the other 13 janitors. That means the 13 workers are doing the same work previously done by 16.
When the union inspects the books, they simply take a headcount; they don’t know that the “utilities” workers are not performing standard maintenance. They just see that the number of workers is the same as the previous company’s.
The “utilities” workers are yanked after 60 days when the union can no longer file a workload grievance.
Peter Weissbach enriched himself illegally on the backs of some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Regulators caught him, but in the end, he was not held accountable.