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Beloit Daily News
Magazine sales crews continue
Three years after crash, no legislation regulates industry

By Greg Locascio
Daily News staff writer

Original URL

April 23, 2002


Phil Ellenbecker said he nearly went crazy with grief when his daughter, Malinda Turvey, 18, died in a van crash which killed six others on Interstate 90 near Janesville on March 25, 1999.

Ellenbecker has made it his crusade to put a spotlight on traveling sales crews, an industry which he said exploits children and young adults. He has developed a Web site, www.travelingsalescrews.info, which chronicles articles written about the industry and includes warnings to parents and children.

``The problem we are dealing with is a national tragedy,'' Ellenbecker said. ``It is so segmented and random, happening in small and large towns all around the country. Right now is the recruiting season because school is getting out and the crews are looking for children who want summer jobs.''

Ellenbecker said potential customers should ask the sales person for a selling permit and identification.
``There are two ways to stop these people,'' Ellenbecker said. ``One, don't buy magazines from door-to-door sales people. The second thing is to take away kids from employees. They need to hire to do the selling. We are trying to get the word out across the country.''

The driver in the crash that killed Ellenbecker's daughter, Jeremy Holmes, tried to switch seats with a passenger in the van while speeding down the interstate because he was driving with a suspended license. He is serving a seven-year reckless homicide sentence at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution in Sheboygan County. Holmes's supervisor, Choan Lane, is serving 3 1/2 years for felony charges of interfering with the custody of a child and misdemeanor charges of obstruction, contributing to the delinquency of a child and contributing to the truancy of a child.

Earline Williams, spokeswoman for Parent Watch, a New York City-based nonprofit clearinghouse on child and youth labor abuse, said traveling sales crews used to advertise in newspapers, luring potential employers with the promise of travel and riches. But negative publicity has forced crews to take a more direct approach, and they now recruit at teen hangouts.

``(Recruiting) is a lot more face-to-face,'' Williams said. ``They go to hangout spots, and even go door to door. Each salesperson is also a potential recruiter and asks any kid they see at the door if they want a job. They also solicit hitchhikers and teen-agers shopping at the mall.

``It is a national problem. There are probably more than 200 businesses, many running several crews each. On any given day, there are somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 people selling products, including magazines and soap,'' Williams said.

Williams said recruiters promise independence, friendship, exotic resort travel and a lot of money. But the reality is that many never receive a pay check but get food money for the day. The employees' actions are monitored, and they are not allowed to have a cell phone or calling card.

``It is difficult to extricate yourself because you are a moneymaker for these groups,'' Williams said. ``Many of these employment conditions either go unnoticed by authorities or fall between the cracks of existing law. The kids are young and inexperienced and often don't complain or know where to complain.''

In January 2001, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, introduced legislation, the Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act, that would exclude exemption from minimum wage and overtime requirements for employee members of traveling sales crews who do not return to their permanent residences at the end of the work day. The bill would also prohibit minors from working on traveling sales crews or any other supported service that requires them to be away from home for more than 24 hours.

Lynn Becker, communications director for Kohl, said the bill was referred to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Because Kohl's legislation amends the Fair Labor Standard Act of 1938, the HELP Committee has jurisdiction.

``The chair of the HELP Committee, Sen. Edward Kennedy is the co-sponsor of the bill, along with Sen. Russ Feingold,'' Becker said. ``A companion version has also been introduced in the House. Last week, Kohl worked with Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), the senior Republican on the HELP sub-committee that deals with labor issues. Enzi agreed to co-sponsor a modified version of the bill that would prohibit anyone under age 18 from working in a traveling sales crew.

``This new version could be introduced as early as next week. Having Enzi's support is significant because he can help get the bill moved by unanimous consent. Part of the concern about the bill on the Republican side is that it would expand the Fair Labor Standards Act, but with Enzi's support it might give it some momentum,'' Becker said.

State Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said the federal government must address this issue because ``these crews travel from state to state.''

``That accident (on I-90) should never have happened,'' Robson said. ``Young people should not be subject to worker abuse by these traveling sales crews.''


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