Work Exchange?

Over the past two decades I’ve noticed that all the restaurant and shop employees in places like Ocean City, MD have become East Europeans. I’ve been quite curious about how they were treated and the agencies which brought them here.

Today we picked up two youngsters from Lithuania who are staying with us a couple nights via AirBNB. They were traveling down from Atlantic City NJ to Baltimore on Greyhound, and planning to do three days in DC and a week in New York before flying home.

Via car-ride small talk I found out that M. and W. were guest workers for a casino hotel who did housekeeping over the summer. “It was terrible…not nice at all,” W. said, twining her long Goth dyed red hair around a finger. A quick litany: The guests were disgusting and mean. The bosses were rude and intemperate. The dormitory was not secure and in the first week many students had their personal belongings (phones, laptops, passports) rifled and stolen while they were asleep or at work. When the students complained to the owner of the dormitory he replied: “At least you weren’t shot or stabbed!”

This sounds a lot less like a work exchange program and a lot more like officially sanctioned human trafficking. Is this the impression of the United States we want to send back with thousands of East European kids eager to practice English and get work experience? Why do we bring them here to expose them to the worst aspects of first-world capitalism and decay? Why should they go home and tell friends the USA is better than Russian dominance of Eastern Europe after their experience here?

Even worse, lanky, athletic and tall M. told me they were supposed to work until yesterday but the hotel booted them out because it went bankrupt. Ironically I picked them up at the Greyhound station next to the shiny, new Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore City. I was very self-conscious about the appalling state of our roads and sidewalks and West B’more neighborhoods as I drove them to our house in Reservoir Hill. I remember back before the neoliberal revolution in the 80s when roads and sidewalks and public areas in the USA were pretty well maintained as a matter of course. I’ve driven on better roads in Honduras than we have in this City.

How badly we’ve been derailed, and how hard it will be to get back…


2 responses to “Work Exchange?

  1. That’s terrible. I live about 40 minutes from Atlantic City and it’s a pretty scary place at times! All of the casinos are pretty much shutting down. It’s horrible that they experienced that kind of treatment here.

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