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Nassau Dem committee tries turning tables on Haber in catering hall kerfuffle

Adam Haber, Nassau County executive candidate, in the

Adam Haber, Nassau County executive candidate, in the foreground, and Thomas Suozzi meet at the Democratic convention in Carle Place. (May 28, 2013) (Credit: Danielle Finkelstein)

Democratic County executive candidate Adam Haber took aim at party officials on Tuesday for hosting their annual convention at Chateau Briand, a Carle Place catering hall embroiled in a lawsuit over the nonpayment of tips to servers.

But, Democratic Party Leader Jay Jacobs claims Haber is being hypocritical as he was scheduled to host a fundraiser at another catering hall embroiled in the same suit until the event was officially cancelled on Wednesday.

In his convention speech, Haber scolded party officials for holding the event at a catering hall which, he contends, is “trying to cheat their workers out of tips.”

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Haber said his campaign would not host events at any catering hall embroiled in the lawsuit and, if elected, would “avoid coming to these facilities” until the labor dispute is settled.

But, Nassau Democratic officials called foul on Haber. They note that Haber was scheduled to host a June 3 fundraiser at the Inn at New Hyde Park, a catering hall also being sued by workers over gratuities.

"Adam Haber's decision to use his invitation to speak at the county convention as an opportunity to criticize me for holding the event at a LI catering hall, when his next fundraiser is booked at a similar facility is the height of hypocrisy," Jacobs said. "He only changed the venue because his hypocrisy was made public. "

Haber’s staff said they decided to change the  venue on Friday after being alerted to the New Hyde Park  lawsuit by a donor. But, an official at the catering hall said Haber's staff cancelled the event late Wednesday afternoon. 

Haber campaign officials said they were unable to reach the owners of the catering hall until midday Wednesday, leading to a delay in cancelling the event.

Haber said he sent a fundraising notice to his supporters on Tuesday night, announcing that the event would now be held at Lula Trattoria, a Mineola restaurant that he owns. The campaign sent a second e-mail to supporters on Wednesday afternoon, alerting them of the venue change.

The dispute has its origins in a 2008 State Court of Appeals ruling which found that a caterer’s service charge must go to pay staff if a customer had a reasonable expectation that it would.

The caterers are facing dozens of class-action lawsuits from waiters, dishwashers and service staff, seeking service charges they say customers believed would go to staff.

The law firm of former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, who is challenging Haber for the Democratic nomination, represents the catering halls.

“Quite simply, these guys were not stealing the tip cup," Suozzi said in an interview earlier this month. "Employees were paid above minimum wage and were often high school or college students. If I felt that these employers were taking advantage of their employees I'd be the first to criticize them.”

Haber campaign manager Justin Myers  said: “While Tom Suozzi fights against catering employees who just want to be paid their rightfully owed tips, Adam refuses to support organizations that are hurting Nassau's working families."

  Legislation has been introduced in the State Senate and Assembly that would give immunity to the caterers unless they told customers in writing that service charges were gratuities.

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