Foul Ball

There's weirdness at the Jake, and it's not on the field.

Wanda Jackson, with Cash O'Riley The Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Road 9 p.m. Thursday, April 22, $15, 216-383-1124
Think the Indians are getting brutalized at Jacobs Field? Listen to the stadium cleaning staff.

Workers for AmeriTemps, the labor agency contracted to sweep up after home games, say their bosses not only pay crap, but they're skimming off the top of said excrement.

"When they cash the check, the supervisor says, 'You owe me $5,'" reports Oren Casdi, a day labor organizer. "The message is that if the worker wants a ticket [to work the next game], they have to give $5 to the supervisor."

AmeriTemps pays $5.15 an hour, but only AmeriTemps can cash that check -- for a fee. That sends the wage down to $4.15, says Casdi.

Last year, he notes, the post-game cleanup took six hours. This year, AmeriTemps is doing it in four hours -- with fewer employees. Those who don't work at breakneck speed can't come back the next day, says Casdi. Worse is when bosses spy an attractive female worker. "The supervisors say, 'If you want a ticket to work, you have to do sexual favors.'"

"That's crazy!" retorts AmeriTemps president Joe Granata. "That is absolutely ludicrous. How come this is the first time I'm hearing about this?"

Granata says he would fire any supervisor who extorted workers, and that employees are free to file complaints. "There has never been a sexual harassment claim at Jacobs Field that I know of." He further says that the company doesn't profit from cashing checks. "We do not exploit people, contrary to what Scene magazine likes to report."

But workers are taking their beefs directly to the Tribe. In a letter to Larry Dolan, they outlined AmeriTemps' alleged offenses and asked for a meeting with the team owner, who they hoped would void the agency's contract.

But Dolan, a true man of the people, did not respond.

Corporate takeover
In real life, it's easy to identify real people. They're usually wrapped in skin and come equipped with ears, opposable thumbs, and varying degrees of blubber and gristle. Yet when it comes to the law, the definition of a "person" also includes corporations. Consider it among the many wonders of our legal system, on sale from a lawyer near you.

Now a bill speeding through the Ohio Senate could exploit this loophole to subvert campaign-finance laws.

In the 2000 election, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce raised almost $11 million to fund a nasty advertising blitz against Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick, in which she was accused of everything except mating with farm animals. Most of the money was donated illegally by a few major corporations, including Wal-Mart and Nationwide Insurance, The Wall Street Journal later found.

Two years later, $13 million was raised through largely secret donations to fund just two Ohio Supreme Court races -- more than was spent on all other Supreme Court contests nationwide.

So state Senator Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) has introduced a bill that would require disclosure of every contributor. Sounds good, eh? But the devil is in the details.

Under current law, corporations can only donate a maximum of $11,000 per candidate during each election cycle, and it must come through political-action committees. But Gardner's bill requires documentation of all "persons" contributing. And since companies are people under Ohio law, the implication is that they will soon be able to fork over unlimited money directly to campaigns. "This wipes out everything we've done in campaign-finance reform in the last 30 or 40 years," says Peg Rosenfield, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters.

While the bill won't take effect till June 1, opponents say the language also allows corporations to keep their donations secret up to that date, leaving some to worry that groups like the Chamber will attempt another corporate takeover of the Supreme Court. "They don't have to disclose a single corporate contributor," says Cliff Arnebeck, the Columbus lawyer who's suing to open the Chamber's records on the anti-Resnick campaign. "Corporations can write a $1 million check, call it a legitimate business expense, and no one will know."

Senators dispute that interpretation. "No bill that we ever pass can apply to stuff that happens before the law goes into effect. It's in the constitution," says Sharon Hershey, an aide to Senate co-sponsor Kevin Coughlin (R-Cuyahoga Falls).

But this being Ohio, anything is possible.

Extreme arts and crafts
Just because Martha Stewart is going to prison doesn't mean that the arts-and-crafts industry is any less cutthroat. Ask Tamara Gunnels.

The young Peninsula artist invented "tree charms," long pieces of stained glass adorned with beads and metal. When hung from branches, they refract sunlight, making a tree shimmer brilliantly. Little girls who lived near Gunnels believed her house was magic.

But she didn't realize the commercial opportunity until neighbors began asking where she bought them. So she decided to set up a table at the Open Air Market on West 25th Street. Even at $30 a pop, she sold out her stock in mere hours.

That was in 2000. Through word of mouth, she was soon shipping tree charms coast-to-coast. Each was handmade and unique. To keep up with demand, Gunnels hired three other women to help. For a fleeting moment, she came to believe that the American Dream wasn't a myth after all. "Call it naïveté, but it never dawned on me that somebody would take my idea and sell it as their own," she says.

But the diabolical geniuses at Pat Catan's gave her a wake-up call, she claims. In 2003, the Strongsville arts-and-crafts chain began to sell its own "charm mobiles." Gunnels denounces them as cheap knockoffs -- they're manufactured in Taiwan and sell for $5. (A spokeswoman for Pat Catan's said she was unaware of the accusation and would look into the matter, but she didn't call back before press time.)

Now, when Gunnels tries to sell her tree charms for $30 at a crafts show, shoppers accuse her of price-gouging and stealing the idea.

Gunnels wanted to sue the chain, but the lawyer's fee -- $10,000 to $20,000 up front -- was cost-prohibitive. "It's heartbreaking," she says. "It feels like somebody stole my child, and I don't have the ransom to buy it back."

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