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The Olympic Party's Over, but Most Workers Still Haven't Been Paid

April 28, 1985|ELLEN FARLEY | Time Staff Writer

Manuel Montoya, 28, of North Hollywood, sometimes arose at 4:30 a.m. and worked past midnight as a waiter at parties given by Olympics sponsors last summer.

Montoya had given up his job as a free-lance hair stylist in order to work at least 12 hours a day for two weeks at $15 an hour, much more than he ordinarily earned. The extra money would help. His wife was then pregnant with their second child.

"I did this job because the money would have helped in the birth of our baby," he said recently.

But Montoya was never paid the $2,910 he is owed for working at the Olympics parties. And despite his initial warm feelings toward the Games, he now says, "Whenever I think of the Olympics, we're sick over it. Everyone made a lot of money but they don't know the heartache that (some of) the people behind the Olympics were caused."

Montoya is among 1,500 creditors left unpaid by Robert Landau Associates, a New York sports marketing and sales promotion firm that filed for bankruptcy one month after the Games. Landau Associates had been hired by some major corporate sponsors of the Summer Olympics to arrange hospitality suites and dinner parties.

Landau Associates earned more than $2 million from its biggest client alone, ABC, which broadcast the Olympics and hosted parties for 1,200 or more guests each evening during the Games. On a smaller scale, Landau's firm also arranged parties and hospitality suites for IBM and Warner Bros.

Landau Associates' creditors include scores of people in the Los Angeles area, many of whom were hired by the firm to work as waiters, waitresses or caterers. A number of them told The Times that they gave up other jobs for the promise of higher pay and believed what they were told--that they would be paid within three days to a week after the Olympics were over.

Some employees were paid with Landau Associates checks that were not honored by their banks. As a result, "A lot of people bounced checks all over town," said Annette Roget, a Glendale caterer who worked at the parties.

"I couldn't answer my telephone," said Clorinda Montoya, 50, a Pico Rivera caterer who recruited 10 people, including Manuel and another son, to work at the parties. "I had all these people calling me with all these problems, wondering where their money was, and I didn't think it was ever going to stop," she said. Montoya was among those who were contacted well in advance of the Olympics by a Landau Associates official asking for help in putting together workers. "He said (wages per hour would be) $15 cash," she said.

Tim McGowan, 41, of Van Nuys, who recruited about 20 workers, said, "Ordinarily I would have asked for money in advance, but I felt that if anybody was going to get shortchanged, it was not going to be people working for ABC at the Olympics," he said.

Unpaid employees included a 13-year-old girl. On her behalf, the California Labor Commission has filed two criminal misdemeanor charges against Landau Associates and its president, Robert Landau. Minors "cannot work more than eight hours a day or past 12:30 at night and they had this young girl doing that," said Roger Miller, the Labor Commission's regional manager in Los Angeles.

In addition, the commission has filed nine other criminal misdemeanor charges against Landau and his company for writing paychecks to employees without sufficient funds to cover the checks. Arraignment on the charges, filed with the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, is scheduled for May 16. Landau has not responded to the charges.

The commission also has filed a claim with the bankruptcy court in New York for wages amounting to $87,131, which is owed to 37 waiters and waitresses who worked at the parties, Miller said. But the total number of those not paid is unknown, Miller said, partly because they appealed to different sources for help.

In the case of those who worked at IBM's "hospitality house," attempts to receive payment have resulted in an alliance that has generated much good will, if no money, so far. IBM had not paid Landau Associates in full when workers began to contact it last fall. So IBM has asked the bankruptcy court in New York for permission to pay employees directly rather than Landau Associates.

"IBM has a certain reputation," said Edmund Burns, an attorney representing IBM, explaining why the corporation wants to use its "influence" to get the workers paid.

"If we pay RLA, the employees will just have a claim and may never get paid," he said.

The alliance between IBM and the workers was cemented when a number of workers chipped in to send Manuel Montoya to New York to represent them at a hearing in the bankruptcy case.

Burns and Montoya hooked up in the courtroom. "IBM has been just wonderful," Montoya says.

More recently, Warner Communications began paying about 20 college students who had been employed by Landau Associates to escort Warner guests to various Olympic events.

"They were unfortunate victims and they deserve to be paid. I think that's the attitude everyone else is taking," said Warner spokesman Geoffrey Holmes.

ABC, however, has been unresponsive to appeals from the unpaid workers and suppliers at its parties, according to a number of those interviewed. In a separate lawsuit revolving around Landau Associates, ABC has contended that it paid Landau Associates in full for its Olympic services and should not have to pay twice.

ABC "acted as if we were telling them something that never happened," complained Harold Klein, the manager of Gourmet Faire, a Hollywood store owed $40,000 by Landau Associates for liquor and other beverages. ABC had no comment.

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