Monday, November 03, 2003

I Could say the same thing about many of the Diaspora in Armenia...

Immigrant says US Armenians exploiting compatriots in sweatshops in Los

Azg web site, Yerevan
1 Nov 03

The Armenian newspaper Azg web site has published a story by an immigrant who says that US businessmen of Armenian origin exploit their compatriots in "sweatshops" by forcing them to work overtime and paying them low wages. He said that these businessmen see their "fellow Armenians" as a way to profit from their disadvantageous position. "They hire their fellow Armenians at below minimum wages, and subject them to excruciatingly brutal work conditions, and long hours of heavy work," he said speaking about the time he had spent working in two Armenian-owned businesses in Los Angeles. In conclusion, the immigrant stated that he had lost of a lot of faith in Armenian brotherhood as it has been "washed away by capitalist greed embedded in businessmen" and that "nationalism I used to feel for being Armenian has changed drastically". The following is a text of Armen Garabedian report in English by Armenian newspaper Azg web site on 1 November entitled "Breaking the chains of Armenian slavery". Subheadings inserted editorially:

"The sun's ferocious beam could be felt upon our backs as our tenth hour working straight came. The gallon of water we had brought with us now completely used up, we were going into a state of hallucinatory fever. The boss yelled at us to continue work and not stop for breaks." Sounds like an excerpt from a slave's accounts in a plantation in the 19th century? In fact it does, however, this excerpt is from my own experiences working for a "fellow Armenian" in Los Angeles in the year 2003.

Businessmen use their compatriots to profit from their disadvantageous position coming to America as an immigrant, I had moved here for a brighter future, and a feeling that in California, Armenians cared for each other and wanted to move forward and progress together. I came with the belief that Armenians stuck together, and worked hard to help each other out in times of hardship. What I found was that there is no Armenian pride left. Armenian business owners see their Armenian compatriots who have come to America with no documents, and in need of jobs, as a way to profit from their disadvantageous position. They hire fellow Armenians at below minimum wages, and subject them to excruciatingly brutal work conditions, and long hours of heavy work. They are not poor businessmen, who cannot afford to pay higher wages. They are in fact, very wealthy and own several homes and expensive cars; all due to their high profits obtained from tax evasion, and low wages paid to their workers. These businessmen have become wealthy by the blood and sweat of other Armenians. I am compelled to tell the truth and expose these sick bastards, as they have no care towards the livelihood of other Armenians and only wish to become wealthy and approach their mind conceived godliness".


One such shop I worked in was a marble and granite shop. When entering this dark and dusty shop, pockets of the sun's rays glistened off the dilapidated machinery. The rat infested "sweatshop" was truly a grotesque sight in itself. Within the shop, there were as many as 10 employees at one time. Later, many had left, but the most there had ever been was about 10 workers. About five of the 10 workers, would be working within the shop while the other five or so would be working outside the shop in homes laying tiles or installing counter tops. One man was appointed to cutting the huge slabs of marble or granite with a massive saw that was operated electrically. The other men would glue edges onto the counter tops while others grinded the edges round and polished them. The team I was appointed to would then load the huge counter tops onto a truck, and head out to homes where we installed them. Now it is easy to imagine the extreme weight of these counter tops, as they are made of rock. The boss would only send two guys to transport and install these counter tops. One time my partner and I were sent to this job where the counter top was this L-shaped mammoth of slab, and the location where we were to install it was down these flight of stairs. Despite numerous protests to the boss to bring more helpers to move the slab, he refused and forced us to go alone. Now, he knew that it took five guys to barely load the slab onto the truck. So how did he expect two guys to move it down a flight of stairs? Well it wouldn't have been profitable for him to send five guys to a job where he was charging so little. You see, he didn't have the business sense of making customers happy by quality service which most people would happily pay more for. The way he made profits was like this. He would charge customers half the market price for such services that any other legitimate company would have charged. How then does he make a profit? Well, he would pay us very low wages, a daily rate. Now he didn't care about the hours we worked. Our normal day should have been from 0800 to 1700. But when he paid us daily, he meant daily. He would want us to work 18 hours just so he could get his job done and make more. The more days it takes us to get a job done, the more he would have to pay us the less he would make. But it is inhuman to work such long hours and at such a heavy job. Well, my partner and I were lucky enough to find two other construction workers that day, and the four of us barely made it down those stairs. Given a normal eight hour work day, people have to take a 30-minute break at least and a lot of places also a 15-minute coffee break. Now the days we worked until 2300, (sometimes 0100) we had only taken a 15-minute break. If the boss ever saw us resting for five minutes, he would yell at us and tell us to get to work. We were lucky that he wouldn't always be at the work sites, so then we could have taken longer breaks, but sometimes he would drive over to check up on us. Many days he would stay watching over us and force us to work longer hours. By law, you are allowed to work overtime but no more than four hours. Also, the wage you receive for over time is one and a half times your normal hourly wage. We would get the same daily amount no matter how long we worked. I for example, started working at 40 dollars a day. After four months, I was making 50 dollars a day. Many times I had come home dead tired at 0000, too tired to cook my dinner or even enjoy a nice evening with friends. This slave driver of a boss, also made people work Sundays, (normal work week was six days for us) but I took a stand and refused. I was punished indirectly by other worse duty jobs.

In terms of health and human rights issues, we were abused under all the factions. Some days I would work in the shop, where the boss wanted us to get into a garbage bin that was dangerously overfilled, and was too heavy to transport by the dump trucks. This garbage bin was full of the decomposing remains of haunta virus infested rats, and when I refused to come near any rat without a respirator, the boss just made a joke and called me a chicken. It took every nerve in my body not to frag (abbreviated verb for "fragmentation grenade") this evil man, but I didn't want to be caught by the police after and put in jail then deported. Eventually I left this job however, and found other jobs with Armenians.

"Slavery in the 21st century"

The next job I took while working in California, was at a dry cleaners. This was a well-established business that brought many affluent customers. The business was owned and operated by an old Armenian couple. This seemed like a heaven sent job, since I didn't have to contend with harmful dust or back breaking labour. I was wrong. They had me working at this job for the whole week. I'd arrive at 1000 and leave the store at 2100. I would have to sort the clothes according to these numbers and colours attached to them. Seems light enough a job, doesn't it? Well it would be if you only worked eight hours at it. But the job was an assembly line job and breaks were a joke. The flow of clothes to be sorted kept me on my feet at all times and I constantly had to run from one position on the line to another. The man's wife was a crazy cross-eyed woman who always yelled in a high pitched shrill that would awaken the dead. She would never talk in a normal voice. She would only yell. After my first week on the job I went to the boss to discuss my hours and work out a schedule and wage. He started talking to me very rudely and said: "Look here. This is a 24-hour business, and you are going to work here every day. You will work here for two months straight every single day until 2100. After two months, you will get every third Sunday off."

I was surprised by the tone he conveyed especially since he was trying to impose slavery in the 21st century! I told him I could not work such hours, and every single day since I have to study. I take college at home since I cannot attend a university here nor do I have enough money to. I study from the Internet-based colleges. I still will receive a nationally accredited degree, so the prestige of an expensive college doesn't make a difference to me since I will be working in a good job once I become a citizen. I tried to reason with him as to why I couldn't work a normal shift. He just grunted over and over again how this is a 24-hour business and such. The concept of rationale did not reach his mindset. I wasn't even asking to work part time, I was just asking to work a normal 40 hour work week. Well the reason why he wanted to have me working there every day was again a matter of personal gain. Him and his wife didn't care that I was a young fellow Armenian new to this country looking for a start to my life. They just saw me as a way to save money on wages and become rich. Might I note that everyone there was receiving substandard wages and working brutally long hours.

Armenian brotherhood washed away by capitalist greed

To conclude this writing, I would like to say that I have lost a lot of faith in the Armenian brotherhood. I feel the old honorable ways of the Armenians I was brought up to believe, were all washed away by the capitalist greed embedded within these business owners. They will stop at nothing to become rich, and even use their own people who are in need of a hand, to gain the riches they so desire. The nationalism I used to feel for being Armenian has changed drastically. I still feel that I am Armenian, but I seriously doubt the motives of most of the business owners out there. This wasn't an isolated incident. Just go to Glendale and North Hollywood and see all the Armenian shops there. See how many hours a day the poor Armenian immigrants work, and the minuscule wages they receive. They have families to support but little do their bosses care. We are led to believe that slavery was abolished more than a century ago. Why then, does the use of slavery drive the American economy forward from the shadows of horrific sweatshops?

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