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Critics assail Ideal Snacks

Legislators give thumbs up on tax breaks

By FRITZ MAYER

MONTICELLO, NY — “The people that we’re talking about are not good neighbors. It’s not Ideal Snacks, it’s Ideal Stinks.”

Those angry words came from Bob Fix, who, along with his parents, owns Liberty Lanes, the bowling alley that sits next to the imposing Ideal Snacks building in Liberty. Fix testified at a public hearing on July 17 regarding the company’s inclusion into the New York State Empire Zone (EZ) program.

Fix said that the company’s owner, Zeke Alenick, reneged on a deal to buy Fix’s entire property, which caused his family steep financial losses. In the meantime, Fix’s parking lot was badly damaged by trailers belonging to Ideal, and by Ideal trucks that continually use his property.

That was just one salvo in an onslaught of criticism.

Jen Fuentes, president of the board of the Workers Rights Law Center, which provides free legal services to low-wage workers, said her organization has received numerous complaints about Ideal, including one that alleged that a plant supervisor prevented workers from using the restroom when they needed to. She added that during an outreach effort, “many workers were very afraid to come forward and talk about their concerns.”

Sylvia Santos, a pastor in Fallsburg, said that, because she was trying to help workers at Ideal, “I was intimidated by Ideal snacks lawyers,” who threatened her with a lawsuit.

Former Ideal employee Carmen Quintanilla, who spoke through an interpreter, said that she had suffered a serious injury on the job. She said the company offered to “cover every expense, but you have to say that the accident happened outside the job.” She added that the company is now “telling lie after lie to get her case closed.”

Another man who worked at Ideal, also speaking through an interpreter, said the company had tried to stop him from getting unemployment benefits, and a supervisor had followed him to his new job at McDonalds to harass him.

Lawmaker Ron Hiatt said that the mayor of the Village of Liberty was against the company getting tax breaks because there is currently litigation between the village and Ideal over waste the company released into the sewer system, which has cost the village thousands of dollars to mitigate.

The lawyer for the company, Henri Shawn, dismissed the complaints as coming from disgruntled employees, or problems that might occur with any business. He said the company was a good one that gives to charities. He said every year Ideal throws a Christmas party for employees, and they all get a present and they get to take home the extra food.

Many of the county legislators took a tour of Ideal on July 15, which was closed to the press, and they all agreed that the facility appeared to be safe and clean.

Lawmakers who supported the company said the income from the 230 jobs, and the additional 50 jobs that will be added if Ideal is admitted into the EZ program, brought money into the community that had a multiplier effect. Others, however, wondered just how powerful the multiplier effect would be with jobs that pay near the minimum wage.

The legislators voted six to three to move forward with the EZ process, with Hiatt and lawmakers Kathy LaBuda and Frank Armstrong voting no.

Immediately after that vote, the Zone Administration Board (ZAB) met to vote on whether it should move forward with the next step in the process, which is to send a recommendation to Albany that the company be moved into the EZ program.

Although not a member of the board, Hiatt went to the meeting to ask ZAB members to hold off on the resolution to pressure Ideal into giving preference to the hiring of Sullivan County residents when new jobs become available.

In an email regarding the tour of the facility, Eileen Haworth Weil, a member of ZAB, wrote, “most workers speak only Spanish.” Hiatt said of his tour experience that it was clear through conversations with employees through interpreters that many did not live in the county before getting a job with Ideal.

County manager David Fanslau asked Shawn if the company could accept giving Sullivan County residents preference when hiring new employees. Shawn said the company could not accept that as a condition of being in the program.

On another matter, Haworth Weil wrote in the email that during the tour she asked Alenick, “Why should New York State taxpayers subsidize your business?” He replied, “We’ll leave Liberty if we don’t get what we’re asking for.”

ZAB member Ted Polinero said he did not think the company was beneficial to the county, and that because the employees have such low wages, they don’t pay property or school tax. But the 230 employees are already here. He said if the company pulls out, the employees might remain and “be wards of the county.” He said because of that, he would vote in favor of moving the EZ process forward.

Fanslau said the company had passed all the necessary legal requirements to become part of the EZ program and, therefore, the board should vote to move it forward. But, he said that members of the ZAB should consider what kind of changes could be made at the state level to make it better.

ZAB members voted five to two to move forward with the process.

TRR photo by Fritz Mayer
Bob Fix, who owns the bowling alley next to Ideal Snacks, says the company is not a good neighbor. (Click for larger version)