Out of the Frying Pan…
I’ve been getting to know some refugee families mostly cause I enjoy it and secondly because most of them could use my help — basically super easy things that most native English speakers take for granted like filling out forms. One guy in particular is gregarious and speaks great English, so I’ve gotten to know his family. They are Karen people from Burma. While in Burma, he told me that he mined rubies, which is essentially slave labor since the government retains all the profits and there is no real economy. Because of this, he is willing to take about any job. Any job is better than slavery, evidently.
He took a one-time gig for a friend of mine who’s a caterer, and I asked him how he liked it. “That wasn’t a job, that was a party!” he responded.
Though his wife, two children and niece are still in Austin, he has been in Waco the last few months. The family told me he got a job as a sushi chef, so I figured he was making good money. I went by the house today and he was there on a rare day off (he asked for a personal day). We ate Burmese food and he told me about his job. He works 10 hours a day, 7 days a week with half a day off every week. I calculated it and his monthly salary (in cash, of course) averages to $4 an hour. He’s supporting his family of 5 on $4 an hour. He works 70 hours a week for $4 an hour. Not only that, he was planning on moving his whole family to Waco because he was convinced that it was an okay job and that they could make it work. Until I told him it was a terrible job and his boss should go to jail, he thought nothing of it. I dragged him to a refugee agency and had them repeat that it’s a terrible job and his boss should go to jail for emphasis. Turns out someone brought him to Waco, trained him unpaid for weeks and then paid him cash to make sushi at HEB. HEB isn’t his employer - the sushi place has a contract, evidently - but it still made me think HEB is at least negligent for things happening in their store.
I just can’t get over that he escaped one form of exploitative labor in Burma to find himself in another one in America. He’s now working toward a better solution, thankfully, and hopefully he’ll find a job soon. Still — it makes me wanna call the cops on his employer. Sometimes helping is about getting people thrown in jail, right?