OPINION

Dedicated Memorial Parents Group

 

MALINDA’S TRAVELING SALES CREW PROTECTION ACT
POUNDED BY OUT-OF-STATE COMPANY

 

The scourge of traveling door-to-door sales crews in the state of Wisconsin continues unabated since the van crash that killed seven kids (one of them my daughter, Malinda) and permanently injured five more in Janesville on March 25, 1999.

 

Wisconsin has been wrestling with the problem of fly-by-night teen slave crews since that day seven years ago.

 

When crew managers come into the state, they seldom acquire sales permits for their workers.  The state and local police have no idea which crews are in town, where they are staying, who the owners and managers are, or where they will be selling—making follow-up to selling violations, and sometimes crimes, difficult.  The kids are worked until they drop and there is no recourse for them because of their sham status as “independent contractors.”

 

Two more deaths have occurred in Wisconsin since the Janesville rollover   and as recent as July 1, 2005 a fifty year old Memomonie woman was brutally beaten and raped by a traveling magazine salesman.

Some criminals who were hired on crew have committed crimes against home owners, and the crew managers still roll teams into towns all over the state, putting the kids up in sleazy motels, driving them out to sell, and keeping most of their earnings for themselves.

 

Senator Jon Erpenbach, his staff and I worked tirelessly for three years to craft Malinda’s Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act—SB-251 and get it passed into law to regulate these crews.  If passed, Wisconsin would be the only state in the country with a law that would effectively protect sales crew kids and homeowners from crooked sales crew operators.  It seemed as if we were finally getting somewhere.

 

The SB-251 legislation passed the Senate unanimously, but due to the lobbying of one out-of-state door-to-door sales company, Southwestern Co., the bill is in a bottleneck before the Assembly Small Business Committee chaired by Rep.Van Roy.

 

I certainly received a hard and fast education when I learned that for any bill to get to the Committee, Van Roy must approve it.  He can make it or break it.

 

Here is what happened after the Senate vote.  Southwestern Co. out of Nashville, TN, sent its’ lobbyist late to the ballgame.  During a recent hearing on March 1, 2006 the attorney for this company testified that Southwestern is different from the rest of the traveling sales crews that come into Wisconsin in that their kids are college kids who don’t rape or murder anybody.  Evidently, Van Roy was impressed by Southwestern because the bill is now stuck in his hands, out of the reach of the Committee with amendment considerations being orchestrated by Southwestern.

 

This bill is not mainly about rape and murder, although its registration process certainly would make it harder for criminals to join crews and work our towns and cities.  It is mainly about the labor and civil rights violations of the sales kids.  In many respects, Southwestern’s modus operandi is essentially no different from the larger sales crew industry.

 

Southwestern’s sales people are labeled “independent contractors,” which means they have essentially no protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), just like youth crews from other door-to-door companies.  The Southwestern kids are sent to work far from home so it will be harder for them to quit, just like the other crews.  They don’t receive their pay until the end of the summer, and withholding pay is a hallmark of the other crews.  By the company’s own admission, they work up to 80 hours per week, six days a week, just like the other crews.  Kids must also attend mandatory sales meetings on Sundays, just like the other crews.

 

A young salesman who was paralyzed from the waist down in a Southwestern-related car-pooling accident is currently suing the company.  The driver of the car was allegedly exhausted and fell asleep at the wheel in an attempt to reach a mandatory sales meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.  Driver error accidents on long “jumps” from one town to another are a hazard in the traveling door-to-door sales industry in general.

 

Southwestern Co. has been banned from two campuses that I am aware of following student complaints of shifty recruitment pitches involving the amount of money to be earned, and nondisclosure of actual working conditions: the University of Iowa in the U.S., and Durham University in the U.K.  Truth in hiring has been a major problem with the recruitment of youth into traveling door-to-door sales jobs all over the country.

 

On labor issues, alone, the entire traveling door-to-door sales industry needs definition and regulation.

 

Here is my question:  why is Representative Van Roy even listening to Southwestern?  Is it possible that the lobbyist for the company, which is a member of a multi-billion dollar-a-year organization--The Direct Selling Association of America--, has worked some special kind of magic?  What power does Southwestern have here?  Why would Van Roy favor a single out-of-state company’s interests over the welfare and safety of Wisconsin kids and homeowners?

 

The intent of Malinda’s Law is pure and simple.  It is a matter of good labor law and public safety and cannot be considered a political issue.

 

Representative Van Roy, look straight through Southwestern Co. and toward us, the citizens of Wisconsin and the past and future victims of this industry.  Stand up and do the right thing.  Put Malinda’s Law, in its’ original form, on the books, and let the other states take notice.

 

Phil Ellenbecker

Director

Dedicated Memorial Parents Group

March 31, 2006