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Bills Would Protect Teen-Agers From High-Pressure Recruiting

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WASHINGTON--Federal lawmakers last week introduced bills in the Congress that would protect job-seeking teen-agers from the high-pressure recruiting tactics and poor working conditions of door-to-door sales organizations targeting them for employment.

The often abusive practices of such companies, including long hours, low wages, and coercion, were catalogued last week in testimony before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Senator William Roth, Republican of Delaware and ranking minority member on the subcommittee, introduced two measures last week designed to curb such abuses and regulate the deceptive advertising used by some sales groups.

At the hearing last week, Senator Roth said that the right to fair wages and decent working conditions must be secured for young workers.

"It seems that unscrupulous individuals are preying on the desires of our nation's young adults to have decent jobs and secure better futures,'' he said.

Three former door-to-door sales agents told members of the subcommittee that they had been forced to work 16-hour days, six or seven days a week, by such companies. They were also subject to such scare tactics as humiliation and physical abuse if sales were not high enough, they said, and were exposed to illicit drug use while on the job. Some said they were forced to sell products without a license.

According to Verna Wilkins, a staff aide for Senator Roth, most of the teen-agers who accept such jobs are out of school and do not expect to go to college. Without other plans and needing a job, she said, they are vulnerable to advertisements that promise high salaries, travel, adventure, and sales experience.

Most of the companies hire the young people to sell magazine subscriptions and cleaning products.

'Modern Slavery'

Jeffrey Medved, one of the witnesses before the subcommittee, called the hiring and employment practices of such companies "modern slavery.'' He told the panel how, at age 19, he had answered a newspaper ad for the Vincent Pitts Sales Organization that promised "travel throughout the United States.'' He was told, he said, that he could have the job if he accepted it the same day and that he would be selling magazine subscriptions.

According to Mr. Medved and others who testified, salespeople were given nightly allowances ranging from $7 to $12 and were told their other wages were being kept for them in an account. They were not allowed to draw money from the account if they needed more than their daily allowance to purchase food or other necessities, they said.

In addition, the witnesses said they either saw or were themselves involved in incidents of physical abuse. Barbara McKnight, who joined TICOA, a company in San Antonio, at the age of 18, said she was slapped for asking a question and was pushed when she told her boss she could not sell magazines.

But Dale Steiger, a New York-based publishing consultant, said that while some of these abuses undeniably occur, they are localized incidents and not as widespread as testimony at the hearing suggested.

Legislation's Provisions

Senator Roth's proposed legislation includes two bills. One would require companies to disclose to sales agents all of the conditions and terms of their employment, and would allow the agents three days to make a decision on whether or not to accept the job.

Like Mr. Medved, the other former sales agents who testified before the panel said a condition of their employment had been that they accept immediately, which did not allow them the time to consult with family members or others.

The bill would give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to prosecute companies that did not comply with its provisions.

The second measure introduced by Senator Roth addresses the interstate-fraud aspect of such cases. It would allow the federal government to prosecute companies that defraud a group of individuals, such as the teen-age sales agents, collectively of $5,000 or more.

Current law limits the federal government's ability to prosecute companies for cases involving smaller amounts of money to individuals.

Representative Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, last week introduced Senator Roth's legislation in the House.

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