Thursday, February 27, 2014
Environment Oregon employees recruiting at a local university
I was recruited by Environment Oregon in front of my university. They set up an information booth. I was surprised that they wanted an interview with me at that very moment, and I was surprised that the interview required no resume or personal recommendations. I was hired after an interview that very day, an interview that seemed to take all of five minutes. The only question I was asked that could, feasibly, be seen as "job related" was whether I had ever demonstrated a concern for the environment. Which environmental organizations had I belonged to? I was also asked for phone numbers of my friends in case they would be interested in a "fun summer job." I was surprised that I was hired so quickly and after such a light-weight interview. But I figured I'd better not look a gift horse in the mouth. I was told, "It's a full-time job and you can make about $4000 for the entire summer."
About a month later, I received a call that the job would start soon and I was to report to the Portland office for what I was told was referred to as a "shadowing day." The first four hours of this first day consisted of standing in the Environment Oregon headquarters with about 25 other young people as we recited, over-and-over, a three-paragraph spiel about how there is a "toxic soup" of garbage (100 million tons worth) in the Pacific Ocean, and this toxic soup kills thousands of sea animals per year, and won't you please donate to help us ban the disposable plastic bag statewide. The obsessive repetition of this monologue, which we were to recite when we knocked on people's doors, became monotonous to the point of being funny. I was told that we would do this every day, for four hours every day. I remember wondering to myself why it would be necessary to recite this for four hours every day, because it seemed to me that I'd have this spiel memorized in one day. Wouldn't people go crazy reciting this over-and-over day-after-day at the Environment Oregon office?
Though I worked for eight hours my first day on the job, I was only paid for the last five hours of the job -- a job that consisted of following another employee around a neighborhood in SE Portland as he went door-to-door asking people for donations to "ban the disposable plastic bag" throughout the entire state of Oregon. I was surprised to be told that this other employee, who was supposed to be training me, had only been with the company for two weeks. My trainer told me that he had a certain quota he had to meet, and if people didn't meet their quotas they would be fired -- unless the management really liked them, and then maybe they'd be given a job elsewhere with Environment Oregon or Osprig.
The end of my first day on the job, I was told that I had performed well during this "preliminary" day, and so they had decided to take me on as an employee. I was told, however, that if I did not meet my quota (a specific amount of donations for a given day) three-days-in-a-row, I would have to be fired. They gave me a quota of $170 for the following day. I commented that this seemed high for someone who was just hired, but I would do my best.
THREE DAY EMPLOYMENT
DAY 1: My first official day as an employee, we began, as we'd been told we would, by reciting and repeating the spiel through means of role playing. First, I am the person knocking on the door asking for donations; then, you are knocking on my door, etc. After doing this for four hours, I head to the bus with a group of people in their late teens and early 20s. We go to NE Portland, 33rd Avenue. By the end of this day, I have made about half of the quota I was given. It's very hard to be a door-to-door salesman when you aren't really selling anything. This job consisted mainly of harping on people's sympathy (or guilt) with use of a clipboard of laminated pictures of garbage in the ocean and animals strangled by plastic. I, personally, would not give cash to someone who showed up to my door with nothing more than pictures and offered me nothing in return. In the entire group of about six of us that headed to NE Portland that day, only about one of us surpassed our quota. But I stayed positive, remembering that maybe they'd keep me on if they liked me.
DAY 2: My second day as an employee begins, as promised, with dozens of young college and high school students as we recite the spiel. I take a look around the room and notice a lot of new faces, and I notice that about 2/3 of the group I'd gone into NE Portland with the previous day weren't there. It was becoming apparent to me that they made good on their promises to fire people if they didn't make their quotas. People were disappearing. Anyway, after the four hours of rehearsal, a group of four of us head to the 82nd Avenue, largely Asian, area of SE Portland. During the drive, I notice that one of the employees asks me a question that I've heard Sarah Higginbotham, the director, ask others; it seemed to be scripted and rehearsed, "So, you're from the area?" I'm not sure what the point of that question was; it was either to gauge if I was familiar with the geography, or demographics, of the Portland area. I am skeptical from the start that people in this working class area are going to be sympathetic to do-gooders spreading throughout their neighborhoods with clipboards and pictures of dying animals in the ocean. And I was correct to be skeptical as I hardly raised any money that day. While traipsing through this SE Portland neighborhood, I reflect on the fact that on this very day other members were heading to Lake Oswego, Oregon, one of the wealthiest areas in the state. I wondered what it was that decided who got the wealthier routes. By the end of the day, I haven't raised much money, but I am told not to take it personally because the "field supervisor" hadn't raised much money either -- only about $40. I have, however, as with the previous day, gotten dozens of petitions to "ban the bag in Oregon."
DAY 3: I notice more new faces and the absence of familiar faces. After four hours of reciting the spiel (which I have long since memorized), three other guys and I get into a car and drive to Hillsboro, Oregon. I gain many signatures for the petition, but neither I nor anyone else raises much money. The neighborhoods we are sent to are largely working class homes, many with "No Solicitation" signs, and I'm told that many houses are rehabilitation homes (former convicts and recovering addicts) and homes for developmentally disabled. I gain signatures for a petition to ban the bag, as well as moral support and sympathy for the cause, but not enough money to meet my quota. At the end of the day I am given news that Environment Oregon has to let me go. I contest that I was given bad areas (others on this day were sent to Wilsonville, Oregon, one of the wealthiest areas in the state) and should be given another shot, and I am met with responses that I found doubtful: that others had been given the same areas I had been given and yet had met quotas in these areas. By process of elimination, someone was lying here, because field managers had told me on days 2 and 3 that they hadn't met their quotas....
My analysis of working for Environment Oregon is that it engages in fraudulent hiring practices. Most likely, they hire people for only three days in a row (basically, "temp work"), so that they don't have to take on long-term employees and thus pay benefits or give raises, etc. I think it is unfair that this is allowed to happen, particularly when these are advertised as "summer jobs." More like a "week job." Such fraudulent advertisement and hiring practices are unfair because it distracts college students (such as myself) from finding real summer jobs. I vow to do what I can to make sure that my university learns about this and no longer allows this parasitic institution to exploit the trusting student body of my college. I am not surprised to find that Environment Oregon has been subject to class-action lawsuits and picketing by former employees.
If you are considering working for this company, I would recommend thinking again. Or, prepare yourself for the fact that you will likely only be there for a few days. And, also, be prepared to DEMAND your paycheck because they can give you the run-around. On the day I was let go (Wednesday night), I was given the option to pick up my check in person or have it mailed to me. By that point, I no longer really trusted this company much, so I decided the best way to go was to show up in person. I was then told that I could pick up my check between 12:00 noon and 3:00 PM the following Friday; when I showed up during those times the following Friday, I was told that those weren't the correct times and I needed to come back between 3 PM and 5 PM to get my check. By that point, I had heard stories about this company not paying its former employees (or suggesting that they "donate" their checks to "the cause"), and so I made it clear that I was prepared to sit in the office and wait the hours necessary to get my check. I did end up getting my check, but not for the $4000 I'd been promised I could earn over the summer. My check was for less than $300.
As someone who actually takes environmental issues seriously, this company is quite an embarrassment with regard to its treatment of its employees.
Former employee of Environment Oregon —
PS: By the way, on my first day I was told that the first four hours of every shift would consist of rehearing the three-paragraph spiel. I wondered why it would be necessary to do this every day, because after only one day I had the spiel memorized. Obviously, the reason it is necessary to do this every day is because of the intentionally high turnover rate. By the time most employees have the three-paragraph spiel memorized -- they are fired! It's obvious that the managers are prepared to fire employees after only three days and are in fact counting on it.
Environment Oregon headquarters in SE Portland
Inside the headquarters of Environment Oregon