In 1902, a group of ten men sent a letter to the City Council to complain about the conduct of an employment agency called Russell & Russell.
As the men related the story, they went into the agency on June 2nd and signed up to work as laborers for a Northern Pacific Railroad project. They were told that the work would last until the 4th of July and that they would be provided transportation to the work site, “and on this representation, took the job, paying therefor one dollar each” to the agency for the referral.
The men found that the job was not as advertised. “Instead of being transported to the work, we were obliged to walk ten miles after leaving the [train] cars. The work lasted, for some of us, a week, and while we were there, men arrived daily from the employment office until the work ceased” – meaning that the agency kept soliciting referral money from workers even though doing so shortened the contract for all.
The men told the Council that in addition to the dollar fee to the agency, they also ended up paying “return fare and other expenses, which amount to more than the wages received.” They asked for laws that would “properly restrain” agencies from misrepresenting the jobs they are furnishing so as to “prevent the recurrence of conditions similar to the above.”
The Council’s Labor Committee reported that “the charges made are in the main true,” and recommended that “a new and more stringent ordinance” be enacted to regulate the operation of employment agencies. Indeed, new regulations were passed the following year.
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