A story of hope, and a lopsided deal
Sunday, August 26, 2012
- Organization: Boston Globe
Jesse Carter’s first job out of homelessness and a crack cocaine addiction took him on an improbable journey, from a Philadelphia ghetto to the top floors of Boston’s Marriott Copley Plaza, where he worked on an $18 million renovation of the towering Back Bay hotel. Arranged by his church, a Christian drug rehabilitation ministry called Victory Outreach, the job offered Carter hope of a steady wage and a fresh start. But inside the Marriott his optimism quickly faded, displaced by unshakable fatigue and pain from the daily demands of the work. He said he was moving furniture 12 hours a day, six days a week — part of a crew from Victory Outreach working around the clock last winter to remodel the hotel’s 1,100 guest rooms.At night, Carter and 11 other laborers packed into a pair of two-bedroom apartments in Chelsea provided by the contractors. His pay for nearly three months of labor worked out to about $4 an hour, half the required minimum wage in Massachusetts. “For what we got paid,” Carter said, “that job was crazy.” In searching for a foothold out of poverty, the 50 year old got swept into a little-known corner of America’s underground economy. His job at the Marriott was not an isolated arrangement, but one of many hotel projects that have employed, on short wages, impoverished men affiliated with Victory Outreach, an international evangelical church that operates recovery homes for addicts and former gang members in some of America’s poorest neighborhoods. Using church labor has allowed a southern California furniture installer to cut costs on the renovation of hotels from Anaheim, Calif., to Boston, where his company has won jobs moving furniture at properties operated under brands such as Embassy Suites, Marriott, and Disney.
The firm, Installations Plus, pays Victory Outreach a fraction of its revenue for each hotel job for supplying the labor, and then appears to keep much of the remainder. The company’s owner, George A. Herrera, defended his use of the church-supplied labor. He said he pays Victory Outreach a lump sum — typically tens of thousands of dollars — and suggested it is the church’s responsibility to ensure the men are adequately paid. “I don’t know what the church pays the guys or what it promises them,” said Herrera, who runs his national business with no commercial office space or clerical staff, relying on a cellphone to handle day-to-day operations. Victory Outreach administrators said the church uses its partnership with Herrera and other business owners to raise money for its ministry, which includes more than 700 churches and recovery homes around the globe. The church was founded in 1967 by pastor Sonny Arguinzoni, a former heroin addict and petty criminal who professed a vision to reach out to disenfranchised people with nowhere else to turn. New members receive daily religious instruction and are eventually asked to perform jobs such as washing cars, landscaping, or moving furniture. The men, some of whom credit the church with rescuing them from their addictions, are paid little or nothing, with the money they earn instead going to Victory Outreach to pay for their care. (click on link to read full story)