Boston

Manager Defends Pizza Shop Owner Facing ‘Horrifying' Charge of Forced Labor

Stavros Papantoniadis, 47, owner of Stash's Pizza, faces federal forced labor charges, and it's not the first time he's faced legal troubles over labor practices

NBC Universal, Inc.

Stash’s Pizza remains open despite the business chain’s owner being in federal custody, charged with forced labor.

Stavros Papantoniadis, 47, is accused of threatening to have undocumented employees deported from the United States and using violence and threats to scare victims into working long hours often without breaks or overtime pay.

STAY IN THE KNOW

icon

Watch NBC10 Boston news for free, 24/7, wherever you are.

icon

Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.

“What has been charged against my dear friend Steve is beyond shocking, beyond belief and just simply untrue,” said Jerry Skordas, manager of Stash’s Pizza in Dorchester. He said he has worked with the Papantoniadis family since 1988. “I haven’t once encountered any maldoing whatsoever.”

Joel Gutierrez says he has worked at the restaurant for three and a half years.

“I think the allegations are bad, no one should tolerate that but, in this case at least, my coworkers and I have been treated very well,” said Guitierrez in Spanish.

This is not the first time Papantoniadis has been in trouble for labor practices. The U.S. Department of Labor first filed suit in March 2017 against Stash's Pizza, Boston Pizza Co., and Weymouth Pizza Co and owners Stavros "Steve" Papantoniadis and Polyxeny "Paulina" Papantoniadis.  The suit alleged that the defendants failed to pay proper overtime to 120 employees, misrepresented employees’ pay rates, and falsified time records between November 2013 and March 2016.

In 2018, the department obtained an injunction from the court to halt violations that continued to occur after the lawsuit's filing and enjoin the defendants from retaliating against employees and former employees and instructing them to lie to or not speak with WHD investigators. The Department's representatives visited each restaurant and read the injunction in the workers' native languages to ensure they understood the injunction's protections and their right to speak to the Department about workplace conditions.

In 2019, the business owners were ordered to pay more than $300,000 in back wages.

“Nobody’s ever come across to me of unpaid anything. You work for this family you are going to be paid handsomely on time, all the time,” said Skordas.

But the problems did not stop there. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office received has received three complaints since 2019 against Stash’s Pizza, over wage and hour violations.

This federal charge alleges Papantoniadis repeatedly made derogatory comments about an employee’s religion and violently attacked him several times. When the victim sought medical treatment, investigators said Papantoniadis threatened to kill the employee or report him to immigration authorities if he did not return to work. On another occasion, Papantoniadis allegedly slapped and choked the victim and broke his teeth, causing him to have teeth removed and wear dentures. According to court documents, as a result of the threats and violence, the victim feared Papantoniadis and kept working for him at Stash’s Pizza.

It is also alleged that when one employee planned to quit, Papantoniadis told him that he was not going to leave and subsequently attacked the victim, forcing him to run to safety in the parking lot. When another victim intended to quit, Papantoniadis allegedly made a false police report, falsely stating that the victim had hit his car and left the scene of the accident after leaving Stash’s Pizza’s Norwood location. As a result, the victim was pulled over and cited by police.

“We very often receive workers at the worker center that are telling similar stories of working without getting paid, having to work many hours and sometimes even their employers ask them to punch in and punch out on their time sheets so on paper it looks like they are doing the hours they are supposed to do, however, they have to arrive early or stay longer so they don’t have to pay overtime.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of members that are immigrants and they hear very often that the employer threatens them on calling immigration or that they don’t have rights because they are immigrants,” said Francisca Sepulveda, with the Massachusetts Coalition of Occupational Safety and Health (Mass COSH).

She said that’s not true.

“It doesn’t matter if you have documents or not, you have rights at work.”

Audrey Richardson, an attorney with the employment law unit at Greater Boston Legal Services, said there are workplace laws and programs that offer protection to all workers regardless of their immigration status.

“One is a new program with the Department of Homeland Security which is deferred action for workers in workplace disputes and this is where a worker who is a witness or even just potentially a witness in a workplace dispute being investigated by a state, federal or local government agency can go through a very streamlined and efficient process to get two years of deferred action that is potentially renewable and have work authorization during that time.”

“The charges in this case are horrifying, and we will do everything possible to support the brave workers who came forward to shine a light on these despicable actions and ensure accountability,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu in a statement. “We are thankful to our partners in the Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security and US Attorney’s Office for their work in exposing these types of crimes. Workers have rights, and anyone who may be a victim of abuse should call the MA Attorney General’s Fair Labor multilingual hotline at (617) 727-3465. The Worker Empowerment Cabinet and Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement are working with the Attorney General’s Office to host a multilingual webinar to provide workers with more resources and support.”

Mass COSH can be reached by phone at 617-825-SAFE(7233)

Greater Boston Legal Services: 617-371-1234

Boston Worker Empowerment Cabinet 617-918-5248 workers@boston.gov

Contact Us