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 6

According to Powers and other people who know them, some Africans are happy with their situation in Summit County. Powers said some had been promoted on their jobs. He said that when he comes to town, he's received as an honored guest, sitting on the floor in some apartment with the Africans and eating dinner.

Powers does sound sympathetic to the Africans' plight. He made arrangements so the Africans working at the Hilton could celebrate the Muslim holy days around Ramadan. "On days leading up to Ramadan, they're supposed to fast between sunrise and sunset. I arranged it so they could skip the mandatory half-hour debit for lunch those days ... I try to treat them fairly. I try to be honest. I tell them, "I'm not your father. I'm not your brother. I'm your employer." "

Natalie's husband and partner, Earl David, strikes a different tone: "In Africa they get $200 a year. So they come to America, working over here, it's better than nothing ... They have a sob story. They're bitching about life in America ... It's a free country, life goes on, if you don't like it, leave it."

Dabo said, "When you send someone to do work like this, tell him right, don't lie to him. Natalie sell African people here."

Twenty-seven of the Africans, including Dabo's group and the group that was placed in Leadville, now rely on government-subsidized housing - they've moved into a complex in Silverthorne that rents inexpensive apartments to people who meet federal poverty guidelines. In effect, taxpayers around the U.S. are helping support the Africans, Clean Serve, the Hilton and the ski resorts.

Melody Keane, manager of the apartments, said some of the Africans came in wholly unprepared for the basics: "They don't know how to work a furnace or a gas range."

When it became clear that the Africans lacked just about everything, people in a neighboring low-income project gathered what they could - a few pieces of furniture and kitchen utensils - and gave it to the Africans. The established poor helped out the newcomer poor.

Despite all that is going against the Africans, they are hanging on and some claw their way upward.

They have acquired a few pieces of furniture; the shortage still includes beds. From their subsidized apartments, they can ride the Summit County bus system, which is a measure of freedom.

Some of them are working second jobs at the Wendy's in Silverthorne, which pays better than the Hilton (starting pay at Wendy's is $7.50 to $9 an hour, plus a bonus and benefits such as a 401K pension plan). Other Africans are hearing about the jobs here and starting to trickle in spontaneously, with no involvement by Clean Serve.

"The foreign people we end up hiring usually work harder," says Debbie Beacco, shift manager at Wendy's. The Africans "learn some English - 'fries," they can learn that."

Dabo told me that he's lost faith that the United States is an example for the world. "The American people is generous. Some people is nice," he said. But how an operation like the Davids/Clean Serve "can do some-ting wrong like that to many people and nobody say any-ting, I was very surprised."

Dabo said he may move on, looking for better opportunity: He's heard there is work in the tourism industry during the summer in some place called Mackinac Island (in the strait between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior). "I don't have any address," he said. "I don't have any idea down there."

When I last saw him, Dabo's stake was down to $250. He's been sending as much of his pay as possible back to his wife and kids in Mali. If he leaves ski country at the end of this season, he'll go with a lot less than he had when he arrived.

Powers said the Africans at the Hilton have just been granted a 25-cents-an-hour raise.

---

These seven sidebars profile other workers and worker advocates:

Working 24 hours straight

The Leadville-Indy 500

Ski bums wrapped in concrete

Pedro Lopez, entrepreneur

It always comes down to finding a place to live

He came to ski and stayed to help

Seeking power, a few ski workers go union

---

Ray Ring is senior editor of High Country News.

 

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