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Did Pro Sporting Events in Tampa 'Employ' Indentured Servants?

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By William Peacock, Esq. on December 05, 2014 7:29 AM

There's your headline: Major League Teams in Tampa Employed Indentured Servants in Concession Stands.

It sounds horrible, doesn't it? It's also only one-tenth of the story. An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times unearthed a labor scandal that did indeed involve unpaid concession stand workers for the Tampa Bay Rays, Lightning, Buccaneers, and the Daytona 500.

Except the labor was contracted through third-party companies and a non-profit called New Beginnings -- a ministry and rehabilitation institution that claims to help homeless drug addicts, but instead was allegedly pocketing their paychecks.

New Beginnings of Tampa

New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison calls it "work therapy." Men living at his ministry, many of whom are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, are sent to sporting events to work concessions, or work in construction, landscaping, telemarketing, moving, painting, even grant-writing.

The money goes to New Beginnings. Workers get food and shelter.

Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer Will Hobson, in an impressive investigative report, interviewed employees and residents, and reviewed public records. According to the residents and staff, New Beginnings took residents' Social Security checks and food stamps. Contractors overbilled the state for grant money and the ministry kept it. Despite providing services to addicts, nobody in the ministry is clinically trained.

Think Before You Contract Out

The headlines point at the biggest fish: the pro sports teams. How did they get into this mess?

The stadiums contract with third parties to run the concession stands -- Aramark runs Raymond James Stadium's stand and Center Plate runs the Rays' concession stands. These third parties contract with nonprofits to provide labor and pay the nonprofits directly, rather than the workers.

According to Center Plate, their contract prohibits charities from sending members who depend on them for food, clothing, shelter, or other necessities of life, likely because of this exact scenario, one that many are saying is exploitation of the homeless rather than therapy.

It's hard to fault the pro sports teams too much here -- they rely on their subcontractors to staff the concession stands. But still: Whose name gets plastered in the headlines?

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