|By Scott Richardson, The Pantagraph,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 8, 2006 - BLOOMINGTON -- A spokesman for the Hampton Inn West in Bloomington agreed to accept what one minister termed "a moral responsibility" Tuesday and seek wages due former workers of a now-bankrupt company that once cleaned rooms at the west-side motel.
Hotel officials stressed they previously paid Sonshine Cleaners, which they contracted to do the work, and they assumed the workers were paid.
"It's not us," said general manager Kay Patel.
Patel pointed out Hampton Inn West, at 906 Maple Hill Road, fired the cleaning company headed by John Balota in December, a day after the Central Illinois Organizing Project complained Balota refused to pay his workers wages earned at the motel.
Balota claimed to reporters then he could not pay employees of Sonshine Cleaners after he declared bankruptcy and the matter went to court. He reorganized another company and continued to do business with Hampton Inn West and other motels. He could not be reached Tuesday.
At the December meeting, Patel said he would do what he could to see Balota's former workers were paid.
On Tuesday, Patel agreed to do more after about 140 CIOP members crammed the hotel lobby. Amid chants from the crowd, the Rev. Jim Bell of First Presbyterian Church appealed to Patel's sense of justice. Bell said if he had hired a company to do work, he would have "a moral responsibility to see the workers get paid."
Patel then agreed to urge Hampton Inn West to pay the workers if Balota does not. If forced to pay twice for the same work, the motel could seek repayment from Balota, Patel said.
Patel had only condition: CIOP leaders must prove the workers cleaned rooms there and how much they are owed. Otherwise, Patel said, "Anybody on the street could say, 'I worked for John Balota. Pay me.' I didn't hire them."
CIOP leaders and Patel agreed to meet again March 15 to discuss details.
One family with several members who worked at the motel is owned at least $4,400, said Cristina Deutsch, a spokeswoman for CIOP and leader of the Hispanic Outreach Program at CIOP-affiliate Western Avenue Community Center in Bloomington.
Deutsch said more than 30 workers, many Hispanic, who once worked for Balota at several area motels, have complained they were not paid. Some surfaced after news coverage of the first meeting between CIOP and Hampton Inn West, she said.
Two workers successfully sued Balota for back pay in May. Other workers have filed complaints with the U.S. Labor Department against Sonshine Cleaners, Deutsch said. But, she said those channels take too long, and CIOP decided to press the Hampton Inn West directly to speed money to families who need it.
Bell was guarded in his appraisal of the outcome of the protest.
"We won't be successful until the workers are paid," he said.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.
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