The New West's servant economy

  • Ski areas of Colorado

    Diane Sylvain
  • Lakamy Maguiraga came a long way for a job cleaning rooms in ski country

    Ray Ring
  • Housekeeper Lakamy Maguiraga

    Ray Ring
  • Before dawn in Leadville, workers board the bus to jobs in Vail

    Ray Ring
  • What's driving the economy now: a skier at Copper Mountain Resort

    Ray Ring
  • Annette Carrica is on a mission in the trailer parks of Eagle County

    Ray Ring
 

Page 4

Sidibe Amard, with Dabo translating, said he got $5.50 an hour to clean rooms at the casino hotel, so $44 gross a day, minus $14 a day to stay in the worker hotel where Clean Serve set him up, minus $6 a day to ride the commuter van that was provided, minus taxes and deductions for Natalie. His net for eight hours' work was $10 or $15. He quit after one day and moved on to Summit County.

Much like in a small town, the sudden appearance of Africans in Summit County has rumors flying, even among government officials: Clean Serve might be busing 100 Africans in from Denver each day; Clean Serve might be paying its workers less than minimum wage and raking the rest off the top ...

The Africans had paycheck stubs showing gross hourly pay of $6.50. Clean Serve officials offer varying profit pictures. The local Clean Serve representative, Jan Pilka, told me the corporation has placed 1,200 workers around the U.S. and makes $1 an hour on each ($48,000 a week total).

Clean Serve's CEO, Powers, interviewed by phone from his Atlanta office, said the corporation only has 300 to 400 workers in place around the U.S. - including 100 Africans - on a profit margin much slimmer than $1 an hour. He declined to say what the profit was. He said there were 50 Clean Serve workers in Summit County this season.

Powers also said the Africans and other hotel workers are paid by a separate corporation, Clean Serve Contract Labor Inc., of which he is also the chief executive officer. He said the second corporation, formed a few years ago, is about to change its name to International Labor Corp. The second corporation was formed after Clean Serve itself got involved in a multimillion-dollar dispute with Kmart.

Clean Serve was supplying janitors to several hundred Kmart stores coast-to-coast, but Kmart canceled the contract, amid allegations that some of the Polish-immigrant janitors were undocumented. The dispute grew into a federal-court lawsuit, with sworn allegations and denials of witness tampering by a Clean Serve officer (not Powers). A final judgment in the case is pending.

Powers said he and the corporation had nothing to do with the money the Africans paid to the recruiters in New York. He said the corporation taps recruiters around the U.S., wherever immigrants collect, and maintains a recruiting office in Eastern Europe. "We do have to rely on them from our end to connect with the labor pool."

In the U.S., the workers are placed "anywhere there's a labor shortage, any destination-type (resort) area."

He said the corporation is "building for the future" in ski country, planning to start operations in other ski towns around the West.

After taxes and deductions for Natalie, the take-home from the Clean Serve job at the Hilton was a slim $700 to $800 a month, out of which the Africans had to pay their ongoing expenses. Life here is far from cheap.

"Check out the McDonald's in Vail," another worker told me. "It used to be the most expensive McDonald's in the world, until they built one in Moscow and one in Beijing."

The McDonald's in Vail looks like any other McDonald's. An American flag flaps overhead. The manager, Steve Bradvica, sets the record straight: "I think we're the 11th in the world (in terms of prices). You got Tokyo, Sweden, Paris ..."

A Vail Big Mac runs nearly a buck more than a Denver Big Mac.

"We are the first African people to come here, and people don't know us," Dabo said. "It is very difficult first time."

To make the 120-mile round-trip commute from Kremmling to the Hilton job, Dabo's group chipped in on a succession of cheap cars. The cars kept breaking down and the missed work days meant even less income.

They had it worse than many other workers in ski country. Around the West, more and more ski-related businesses are so hungry for workers that they provide transportation and help with housing. Each morning, Wendy's fast food in Silverthorne runs a van load of workers all the way from the Denver area, up 60 miles of interstate and through a tunnel in the Continental Divide. The workers get paid for their commuting time. Some ride another 35 miles, over Vail Pass, to reach the Wendy's in Vail.

Some resorts and hotels here run vans and full-size buses over the snowy passes to gather workers from Leadville, an old mining town that is another bedroom community. A public bus system based in Eagle County also runs to and from Leadville during the worker rush hours.

High Country News Classifieds
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • VERDE RIVER PROJECTS TECHNICIAN
    The Verde River Projects Technician (VRPT) provides technical assistance to Verde River Program staff in implementation of the Verde River Streamflow Monitoring Protocol. This consist...
  • 8 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • SOUTHWEST REWILDING ADVOCATE
    WildEarth Guardians is seeking a full-time advocate in our Wild Places Program to advance a new paradigm of forest management and protection based on the...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...