Written By: Ringsider – Photo By: Mike Plunkett
The famous Summer of Love was 40 years ago, replaced this year in Ocean City by tension and anger over the use of non-union labor to expand a high profile pizza business in trouble with the federal government for income tax evasion.
“It’s also about hypocrisy,” said Rich Tolson, president of the Bordentown-based New Jersey BAC, and
field commander of the battle against expansion of a Manco and Manco pizzeria in what used to be the landmark Strand Theater on the Boardwalk, at 9th, near the Ocean City Music Pier. Tolson’s main beef with the project is the owner of the property, Ocean City Boardwalk Holdings, an entity with roots dating back more than 100 years to the days when Ocean City began as a religious campsite established Methodists.
Which is where the “hypocrisy” comes in.
“After all, the foundation of the organization’s beliefs were the teachings of Jesus Christ. He was the author of huge Protestant denomination’s business plan, not greedy mogols of Wall Street,” Tolson said.
A long-time Ocean City resident who has enjoyed his share of Manco and Manco slices over the years, Tolson is a keen student of Organized Labor history in the evolution of America and its vaunted Middle Class dating back to the 1800s. “Labor was at the tip of the spear in making sure working men and women were treated with dignity,” he said. He cited creation of safe and clean working conditions, rules against exploiting child labor and establishment of reasonable and humane limits on the length of a standard working day. Plus, weekends, workers comp, unemployment insurance and many other items that underpin workplace fairness now taken for granted in the United States.
“Certainly, improved wages and benefits are the priority in negotiations nowadays but back in the day it was largely about human dignity and respect,” he said. “We did not steep the rhetoric in religious terms but, in truth, the reforms brought about by unionism were inspired by Christian and Judaic principles of human decency.”
He noted a basic similarity between the early unionists and the founders of Ocean City. “Let’s just say union people have not forgotten where they came from” Tolson said.
He added, “I think The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, said it best: “”Unions have been the only powerful voice working people have ever had in the history of this country.”
Efforts to reach Ocean City Boardwalk Holdings have been unsuccessful. The real estate enterprise is a holdover of the founding of Ocean City in 1879 by four Methodist ministers as a summer retreat and religious campsite. After incorporating the community and its seven-mile beach under the supervision of the Ocean City Association, the four clergymen sold lots for cottages, hotels and businesses.
While staging an informational picket line at the old Strand, supported by several other trades, note was taken of a number of safety violations — including the absence of safety glasses in the face of sparks from a power saw used to free rebar from metal straps on bales. Men walking perilously off the roof directly onto scaffolding was another disturbing sight to safety-conscious pickets was one of many safety standards ignored, according to observers.They also noted the trash removal service had Pennsylvania tags but no name on the vehicles. Plus, the presence of hard hats was spotty at best. Mostly, the pickets were bricklayers but they were supported by members of the Iron Workers, Carpenters, Operating Engineers and Local 7, Sheet Metal Workers.
In addition to such violations, the Methodist holding company is working with a convicted felon on the construction project – Charles Bangle, who owns the Manco and Manco pizza shops in and around Ocean City with his wife, the former Mary Manco, daughter of the late Frank Manco, who co-founded the chain, then known as Mack and Manco, in 1956. Mary admitted to lying to IRS agents during the tax evasion investigation and is now serving a three-year probationary sentence. Her husband was sentenced to 15 months in prison for the tax evasion but U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler agreed to delay execution of the sentence until after Labor Day because his lawyer argued there would otherwise be a devastating effect on the business and its employees.
The U.S. attorney’s office initially charged the Bangles with concealing nearly $1 million in income fr0m 2007 to 2011 and with failing to pay more than $330,000 in taxes. Charles Bangle pleaded guilty to tax evasion involving a lesser amount and for making bank deposits in amounts less than $10,000 to avoid detection.
Tolson said he and other union members would be hand billing at the site promoting a boycott to slow or stop that business in the new digs Bangle claims will be the largest pizza shop in the nation.