Pizza Chain Owner Facing Charges Of Forced Labor

March 17, 2023


Jame Jones, MassCOSH Communications Coordinator
(857) 301-7730

Pizza Chain Owner Facing Charges Of Forced Labor

BOSTON The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) is reeling from the news about Stavros “Steve” Papantoniadis, owner of the Stash’s Pizza chain, who is facing federal charges for forced labor.

According to media reports, the 47-year-old owner of Stash’s Pizza is facing charges after seven victims offered testimony on his targeting of them as undocumented workers, with the specific intent to leverage their status and get away with countless labor rights violations as well as horrific acts of physical and verbal abuse. The allegations brought forward by these seven victims reveal a long history of workplace violence and coercion with no safe way for workers to leave or quit.

Among the reported violations, the seven witnesses mentioned 100+ hour work weeks with no overtime compensation and minimal breaks, as well as incomplete paychecks that didn’t cover the full amount of hours they worked. They also testified that, on numerous occasions, when they tried to quit or even just request time off or advocate to get paid for the hours they worked, Papantoniadis would resort to retaliatory violence and threats. While many of the alleged threats were physical in nature, the seven victims said he also made numerous threats to contact immigration authorities and get them deported.

As US Attorney Rachael Rollins put it in a statement addressing these charges, "Forced labor is a form of human trafficking. It is not a wage dispute. If someone is being compelled to work through the use of force, threats of force, or coercion, that is a federal crime.”

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for employers to leverage the immigration status of their employees to get away with illegal wages, unsafe work conditions, physical violence, and forced labor. According to a study published in 2022 by the Polaris Project (an organization working to fight human trafficking), the primary method of control for visa-holding victims of trafficking in the United States was the threat to report individuals to immigration. Across all visa types, over half of the victims listed this form of retaliation as a method of control.

Francisca Sepulveda, our Immigrant Worker Center Director, confirms this trend from her own work on the ground: “Immigrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, whether through immigration status or language barriers. We’ve worked with many people who feel powerless and afraid to speak out against their employers out of fear of retaliation and deportation, fears that are justified because those employers will actually make those threats sometimes. There are also people who are unable to join a union because of their immigration status, which only makes them more vulnerable. All of these factors really create a power dynamic that allows predatory employers to take advantage of and exploit immigrant workers.”

According to one witness’ testimony, Papantoniadis implied that he could falsely report him to the police, and they would believe it, because “he [Papantoniadis] was a businessman…and a citizen of this country.” This attitude is reflective of deeply engrained power differentials that have long emboldened employees and companies to exploit and intimidate immigrant workers.

Thankfully, there are policy changes being made to help curb these trends. As of this year, OSHA can certify T-visa applications to victims of labor trafficking and U-visa applications to victims of workplace mental or physical abuse, offering some protections to immigrant workers fearing retaliatory outcomes. These changes certainly won’t stem the tide of abuses towards immigrant workers on their own, but they are a step in the right direction.

In the state of Massachusetts, all workers are protected by the same labor and employment laws, regardless of immigration status. If you or someone you know is a victim of forced labor, or is experiencing discrimination due to their immigration status, please call our Immigrant Worker Center at 617-505-8940. We are here to help.