New Hampshire's Exploited Foreign Student Workers
Last year I had the pleasure of talking with many of the foreign student
workers imported into the Lakes Region for the Summer. These students come
from overseas, brought in by their employer/sponsors, to work during the Summer,
helping local businesses meet the needs of the vacationers flocking to the
region for this brief period upon which many of New Hampshire's small business's
depend. This year is no different and many of these students, each of whom
has paid around one thousand dollars for transportation to our neck of the
woods, are back again, hoping to earn enough money to get them through the
school year back home.
In a part of New England where diversity is almost unknown, it is a breath of
fresh air to see these students, many of whom are from Eastern Europe, add some
character to our otherwise bland existence. What most locals do not
understand is how terribly exploited, underpaid and under-respected many of
these student are.
They can be found working in the local fast food outlets, super markets, gas
stations and hotels. A few of these businesses treats these workers very
well, but the vast majority exploit their eagerness to work and the difference
in pay between their homelands and New Hampshire. The result of this
exploitation is overwork, underpay and frustration.
Many of these students are very well educated, yet while in New Hampshire,
the English only population rolls their eyes at their limited English and mocks
them as if they are subhuman. On the contrary, I've found them to be
brilliant. I asked the owner of a local fast food shop about his
experiences hiring these students and he beamed with pride over how well they
were working out, "I've been bringing them back for years." he
said. "They are hard working, inventive and have introduced many
improvements in our processes. Unlike many in the local population, these
workers want to work."
Last year, I told some of these workers that I sometimes publish on IndyMedia
and they consented to interviews. They wish to keep their identities
secret because of fear of retaliation during future returns to New
Hampshire. The following is a summary of what I learned.
Among the worst of the employers in the Lakes Region Area (think Laconia) is
the Margate resort. The Margate pays its foreign workers less than it pays
local workers. Some of the managers at the resort are know to
systematically steal the tips out of guest rooms before foreign house keeping
workers are able to access the rooms. Arbitrary firing of workers is
common at the Margate. At least one story I heard implied that a male
worker was fired when he turned down a female manager's advances.
Burger King in Laconia is also known to pay foreign workers less. They
promise hours of work that they do not schedule. Working more than full
time is important to these students and some of them maintain two or three jobs
while in New Hampshire. When an employer promises work but does not
deliver, these students are left without work. It costs a great deal for
them to come out to New Hampshire and work for the summer. They depend
upon their earnings not only for living while in New Hampshire, but for paying
for their transportation to and from New Hampshire and survival at home during
the school year.
Shaws Supermarket places foreign workers in lower positions than American
workers. During the summer, only the foreign workers are required to do
such tasks as cleaning up the grounds outside of the supermarket and collecting
carts (this is in addition to their other duties).
I asked the workers if there were any exceptions to this poor treatment of
foreign workers. Several pointed out that Gilford Mobil Mart treats its
employees very well, pays the foreign workers the same rate of pay was the local
workers and treats them with the same respect as it treats local workers.
My advice for those of you visiting the Lakes Region for Summer vacation is
to give your tips directly to the persons cleaning your room at the hotels
whenever possible. At other locations, be quick to praise their work and
let their bosses know that you value them. You might wanted to ask their
bosses, pointedly, if they pay them equally. Letting the business owners
of New Hampshire know that you care about and are aware of their exploitation of
foreign workers may pressure them to treat these delightful people better.