Guest Workers Get Unequal Treatment in State
Dakota Digest - 08/27/2012
The main tourist season is winding down in South Dakota -this year is again on track to see around three-million visitors to the state. With all those extra people here - some businesses say they can't hire enough local seasonal help to fill the need - so each year hundreds of foreign temporary workers get visas to come to South Dakota for the summer. Most are college students. Many work as maids or in food service, some in retail. But U.S. Department of Labor citations against five local businesses show that not all of the workers get treated the same while here. SDPB's Charles Michael Ray takes at how foreign workers are treated in South Dakota.
Wall, South Dakota has a population of about 800 people. This little town on the edge of the Badlands might be the last place in the state you'd think of as cosmopolitan--but you'd be wrong. In Wall you can buy a pair of boots from a Czech.
"Fancy cowboy stylish boots for tourists or riding a horse," says Jacob Lysek,
You can pick up a souvenir T-shirt from a Kurd.
"It's not hard work so I can handle it." Aidilia Kanimetova
And if you want fries with that-a Hungarian is happy to oblige.
"Most of the time I'm at the window so I call the numbers. 197 - thank you sir" Eniko Toth
Jacob Lysek, Aidilia Kanimetova, Eniko Toth, are in Wall for the summer on foreign guest worker visas - they're employed at "Wall Drug." Mike Huether is the general manger. Huether says to cover the super busy summer months Wall Drug first tries to hire local. He says Wall Drug hires workers from the reservations and surrounding communities. But Huether says there still isn't enough population in the area to meet the need for seasonal workers. So each year they reach out - overseas. This summer Wall Drug brought in 47 extra workers from 19 different countries.
"Ninety-percent of them have two jobs here in Wall. There's motels, there's the local restaurants also. And this one chance at making some money for their college and getting better English - they gotta get it while they can," says Heuther.
Those like Eniko Toth from Hungary say foreign workers here get a change to hone their English skills not just with American customers but also with fellow workers from around the world.
"I always have to make my roommate repeat what she says especially because she's from England so her accent is a bit strange," says Toth.
Toth others here seem happy at Wall Drug. They say they have clean comfortable dorm rooms. They take part in parties and recreation activities organized by Wall Drug management. Many come back year after year. But it's not so good for foreign guest workers elsewhere in the state.
Rapid City has a number of hotels and businesses also employ foreign guest workers mostly as housekeepers and food service personnel, and their accommodations aren't always so nice.
"You can see that it's a pretty disgusting place to live," says Anastasia Loza a student from Ukraine.
Anastasia Loza is a student from the Ukraine. She's one of 17 people who pay 150 dollars per month each to live in this four bedroom house. That's 17 people in four bedrooms. Beds are stacked on top of one another and there are two big open sacks of garbage piled up in a kitchen corner. Loza says she and the others here work six days a week, often at two jobs - so they have little energy left over.
"I mean no one cleans - just too many people, two bathrooms, and it's always you know lack of some resources," says Loza
This summer the U.S. Department of Labor fined five South Dakota businesses in part for short changing workers on overtime and failing to pay minimum wage. The businesses were also forced to pay 124-thousand dollars in back pay. The Labor Department says foreign guest workers are vulnerable.
"Absolutely not do we exploit these kids," says Henderson
James Henderson is the CEO of the Adoba Eco Hotel, its parent company Shiba Investments is among those recently fined by the Labor Department. The Adoba Eco Hotel runs the worker housing where Loza and 17 other people live.
"These students are educated, they're smart, they're wonderful people, and we treat them with respect. And treat them under American law," says Henderson.
Local occupancy codes allow only five people who aren't related by birth or marriage to rent the same house. But local officials also say they can't investigate the Adoba Eco Hotel's worker housing without a written complaint. Karim Merali owns the real estate the Adoba Eco Hotel sits on he says the worker housing provided by the hotel is optional. He adds that federal officials also inquired about the living conditions and found no problems. He says the workers enjoy their time here.
"I don't know if they made that impression - but they are spoiled - I mean we house them, we feed them, they work in jobs that they make ten times what they make. They're treated with respect we love them," says Merali.
Back in the kitchen of her temporary home Anastasia Loza says she doesn't feel spoiled. In fact Loza has complained about the living conditions and work situation with her sponsors. But Loza says she dropped the complaints because she's due back home in the Ukraine soon - she won't be coming back next year.
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