99 CENTS AND A DREAM

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Next time you’re at the dollar store, don’t forget that being cheap can cost you more in the end. The owners of several chains of 99-cent stores agreed last week to settle a lawsuit by paying $100,000 to 11 Latin American workers who said they had been underpaid, overworked and locked in the stores overnight with nothing to sleep on but cardboard boxes and nothing to eat but 99-cent dry goods.

The workers, mostly undocumented Mexican immigrants, sued their bosses in federal court last January [see City Limits, “Bargain Bizarre,” Jan 8]. According to the law suit, employers drove workers from New Jersey to new stores throughout the tri-state area to help stock the shelves, sometimes working them for three-day stretches and paying as little as $180 for a 72-hour week.

On April 2, the owners of 99-Cent Dreams and more than 40 other dollar stores agreed to settle the lawsuit with no admission of liability. “One of the reasons we settled was the explosive nature of some of these claims,” said Robert Margulies, the lawyer for the companies. “We were in a position, for the most part, to demonstrate that they were not viable.”

The workers ended up with about $30,000 more than the back wages they say they were owed.

More importantly for worker Oscar Roldan, though, the companies issued an apology. “We were treated like animals, the bosses treated us with the point of their shoes,” said Roldan. “How much money are you going to need to pay for losing your respect? How much does it cost to win your dignity back?”