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Buccaneers profit from exploiting homeless labor

The Bucs are one of several sports teams profiting from exploiting homeless labor in the Tampa Bay area.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are profiting from a program exploiting homeless labor.

That's the conclusion reached by in  Will Hobson in a Tampa Bay Times exposé on the New Beginnings of Tampa homeless program run by Tom Atchison. In exchange for shelter, he uses homeless people's labor to create revenue, calling it "work therapy".

The Bucs, Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning all profit from the use of this program to run concession stands at their stadiums, although the Bucs don't directly contract with New Beginnings -- that happens through Aramark, which runs all concessions at Raymond James Stadium.

Atchison's program takes its residents' food stamps and Social Security checks, regardless of the amount owed by residents to the program. Atchison does not employ any employees "clinically trained to work with addicts or the mentally ill", while still claiming to provide counseling. In fact, they don't employ anyone with a "college or graduate degree in a field related to counseling addicts or the mentally ill."

"I don't lie. What I saw was wrong," Victoria Denton, a former New Beginnings employee, said. "If a check comes in, it doesn't matter if it's your name, my name, or Timbuktu's name, it's going in his (Atchison's) name."

The story is filled with details of unethical practices like that.

"When they come in the program - this sounds a bit bad - they become our property to help us help them become new people," a minister who works with Atchison told the Tampa Bay Times.

It sounds bad, because it is bad. Hobson points to a similar 1990s program in New York City, which paid homeless employees $1 to $1.50 per hour and was shut down by a federal ruling that it violated labor law. Here's a basic principle: if people do a job, they should be compensated properly.

"People who are homeless are desperate," the Tampa Bay Times quotes Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. "It's not an equal, typical relationship between a landlord and a tenant. ... It should err on the side of protecting the homeless people who are more vulnerable in the relationship, and making sure their rights are preserved."

"I've been feeling bad," Atchison said. "For 15 years, all these people have worked their butts off, and have nothing. ... And they are all happy... . Oh, Pastor Tom, you saved my life, I'll do anything for you. ... But it shouldn't be that way. We want to start giving people a future."

Maybe you should not be offering the people you're giving shelter as close-to-free labor for corporations making a massive profit, then.

This isn't the first time the Bucs have been in the news for possibly violating labor practices, as they were one of the NFL teams sued by former cheerleaders for compensating them at below-minimum-wage levels.

The investigation as a whole is filled with details of unethical labor and business practices on the part of New Beginnings of Tampa, which is trying to win a bid to run a new homeless shelter in Hillsborough County. You should definitely read the whole thing.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to shut this down immediately. They have significant control over what happens at Raymond James Stadium and can bring that pressure to bear on Aramark, which runs the concession stands. If they want to employ people at their concession stands, they need to make sure they are paid for doing their jobs, and treated like normal human beings.

Aramark and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are massive corporations raking in profit. They can afford to compensate their employees appropriately. And they need to start doing so.

h/t Deadspin