Put a stop to worker abuses

Washington County officials need to send a clear message that practices of the notorious door-to-door magazine sales companies won't be tolerated here
by: ,

Oregon officials may think they are unable to do much to impede the operations of door-to-door magazine sales, but we think it's time to shine a very bright light on a very dark industry that has a history of taking advantage of young people.

One such company, Integrity Program, an outfit whose track record makes its name laughable, recently has had sales crews traversing local neighborhoods.

Washington County police chiefs, district attorneys, judges and elected officials need to send a clear message that practices of these notorious companies won't be tolerated here. The news on these firms may be worse than you might expect.

These businesses sneak into the state unannounced with crews of young people and canvass neighborhoods, selling magazine subscriptions at inflated prices.

The workers, who the companies claim are 'independent contractors,' are often times inner city youths relocated from far away states and who are recruited through misleading ads. They are forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day while being paid $20 a day or less. The young people - typically 18 to 25 years old - believe they have no choice but to stay, because crew managers withhold their earnings and threaten them with retribution.

The problem for local law enforcement officials is that the companies roll into town under cover of darkness, sweep through neighborhoods and leave within days. The young people who may be the real victims are from some other states, and for whom it seems no one locally has much reason to care.

It's time to change that. Yet we clearly understand that clamping down on these companies may simply prompt them to move on to other states. But at least we would be saying that Oregon is firmly against a shadowy industry that forces people to work for less than minimum wage and subjects them to emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

To achieve some control, we support new legislation making it easier to shut these businesses down, but would point out that these companies already are apparently violating multiple existing laws.

Taking action starts with all citizens and public officials assuming responsibility for what happens to fellow human beings while they are in our communities - whether or not they are from Oregon.

Going forward, we hope that when local police agencies and the county sheriff's office hear of unscrupulous door-to-door sales companies operating in town, they hit them with every ordinance or law available. Eventually, the message will get through: This is one type of business that's not welcome here.