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SALES FIRMS ACCUSED OF EXPLOITING YOUTHS
Seattle Times; Seattle, Wash.; Dec 22, 1985;
Sub Title: [WEEKEND Edition]
Start Page: B13
ISSN: 07459696
Dateline: PORTLAND
Copyright: AP


Abstract:

PORTLAND (AP) - An Oregon congressman and the founder of a parents' group based in New York City say it's time to stop door-to-door sales companies from exploiting young salespeople.

Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says he first learned the extent of the problem in a newspaper article. Now he's proposing federal action against some slick operators who ``enslave'' young salesmen and saleswomen.

He says the companies involved reportedly run sales crews that hire young adults as traveling salespeople, train them to lie to customers, and offer little or no pay for 12- to 16-hour days.

Full Text: Copyright Seattle Times Dec 22, 1985

PORTLAND (AP) - An Oregon congressman and the founder of a parents' group based in New York City say it's time to stop door-to-door sales companies from exploiting young salespeople.

Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says he first learned the extent of the problem in a newspaper article. Now he's proposing federal action against some slick operators who ``enslave'' young salesmen and saleswomen.

Wyden says the government labels the practice ``fraudulent youth sales.''

He says the companies involved reportedly run sales crews that hire young adults as traveling salespeople, train them to lie to customers, and offer little or no pay for 12- to 16-hour days.

Earlene Williams is the founder of Parent Watch, a nonprofit organization that investigates complaints from former salespeople and assists victims in getting help from the law.

Most door-to-door sales companies are reputable, she says, but she claims about 200 companies are engaged in systematic, sometimes brutal exploitation of at least 15,000 salespeople.

The national scope of the problem makes a federal solution the only option, Wyden said, because state and local law-enforcement efforts are crippled by lack of information and jurisdiction.

Sales crews are designed to travel quickly and can leave a state overnight if necessary. Crews change their names often, making tracing almost impossible.

Wyden's solution is outlined in a bill he sponsored in the House last spring. It would create a clearinghouse to collect and organize information on the ``mother'' companies that outfit the sales crews.

The information would be entered on the FBI computer at the National Crime Information Center. The 50,000 law-enforcement agencies with NCIC access would have information on any crew that rolls into town.

Parent Watch, which has contacts in 16 states, has gathered much information on crews and their mother companies. Williams says young adults, lured into joining sales crews with promises of travel and money, may find themselves living in fleabag motels, selling magazines or chemical cleansers 12 hours a day, and seeing their earnings only as numbers in a manager's book.

Physical and verbal abuse, rape and homicide have been reported in a few instances.

Parent Watch also offers information, moral support and tangible help for those who want to leave a crew but have no money, are frightened, or are not allowed by managers to leave.

Vance Hunter, 27, of Salem, worked on such a sales crew several years ago. Now he runs a one-man crusade against the crews in Oregon, even setting up ``rescues'' when necessary.

Employees are instructed to bring in cash rather than checks, since cash cannot be canceled if the purchaser has a change of heart, Hunter said.

The pitch they're taught to give, he said, often violates Oregon's 30-second rule, which requires door-to-door salespeople to identify themselves, their company and their product in the first 30 seconds.

In hiring, crews seek applicants who are between 16 and 24 years old, Williams said. Since the unemployment rate for this group is about 40 percent, she said, ``there is no end to the takers,'' and new employees may have no idea of pay scale, payment method or hours.

These crews usually work six days a week and travel on the seventh, she said; they receive no paychecks, and $7 or $8 for food is handed out each morning.

Brenda Keitges, of Portland, was in a magazine-selling outfit for four months last spring. In that time, the account the manager kept for her grew to only $60, because lodging and food expenses were deducted from her earnings.

She compared the crew to a cult. Keitges said she was cut off from her family, and the crew's values and beliefs were constantly drilled in to her.

Oregon's first step in fighting fraudulent sales was to create a task force of Justice and Labor department officials, said Jan Margosian of the state Justice Department's financial-fraud division.

Some progress has been made in fraud prosecutions, Margosian said, ``but that isn't getting to the root of the problem, which is the `slavery' in the employer-employee relationship.''

Credit: AP


Copyright 1985 AP All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without permission.

Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.


DMPG Acquired Data:
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