We’ve all seen the advertisements in colleges, high schools, in the newspapers, on Craigslist, and even on chalkboards. They say things along the lines of “Student Work” or “Winter Break Work” or “Summer Work.” The advertisements talk about making your own hours. They have the faces of smiling young people on their posters with little pieces at the bottom to tear off. However, the advertisements never tell you the name of the company offering the jobs. They don’t tell you what kind of work you’ll be doing either. The fact that the potential employer remains a mystery is itself a bad sign.
Well, Our Streets is going to tell you all you need to know about this so-called “student work.” The company putting out these advertisements is called Vector Marketing Corporation (or just Vector). They are a wholly owned subsidiary of Cutco Corporation. The job they are trying to attract young people to is one selling Cutco cutlery, such as knives, scissors, other kitchen utensils, and the occasional gardening tools.
Spoiler alert! Every young person who calls in gets the job. Here is the problem. It’s a scam. They are taking advantage of desperate, and sometimes naive, students who are already facing mounting loan debt and possibly unsympathetic parents.
Students are recruited by Vector to sell Cutco knives, but first the students need to buy a package of the knives, usually for $145. They don’t sell door-to-door and the company doesn’t provide you with a list of people to call. The student salesperson is expected to sell the cutlery to their relatives, friends, friends’ relatives, relatives’ friends, relatives of relatives, friends of friends, etc. The cutlery set they are selling their family and friends usually costs from $200 to $2,000. Phone and travel expenses aren’t reimbursed by the company, and employees found themselves working longer and stricter hours than lead to believe.
A former Vector assistant manager from Tacoma, Washington reported working over 90 hours a week. She said she was not allowed to give details about the job to people who called the office, she was only allowed to read from a script.
One former employee reported working five to six hour days and only taking home $100 at the end of the week. To put it in perspective, if he worked five hours a day for $7.00 an hour (below minimum wage) he would still be making more money than he did at Vector. A survey done by the state of Wisconsin found that employees who sold cutlery for Vector earned less than $3 a day (on average).
When he quit, the company was supposed to send him his final paycheck in the mail. It never came, which is a violation of labor law. He had to file a wage claim with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries just to get his last paycheck. The Oregon Attorney General’s Office had handled several claims against Vector over the past few years (as of 2004).
Speaking of breaking the law, Vector has been sued several times. In 1990, the Arizona attorney general sued them. In 1999, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission sued Vector/Cutco. In 1994, a Wisconsin court ordered Vector to stop using misleading advertisements about its positions. A court in Marion County, Oregon ordered the same thing that year as well. In 2003, Vector lost a case with the New York Department of Labor when a former employee proved the company violated the independent contractor-client relationship by not paying her for the mandatory, time-consuming trainings they subject their “independent contractors” to.
In 2010, the Carolinian, which is the student newspaper for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, reported that Vector was posting misleading signs for positions starting at $13.25 an hour around their campus. This tactic, this outright lie about pay, is something the company has been doing for years. This year, 2013, it was reported that Vector put up posters advertising $20 an hour positions for people with zero experience and a high school degree. If it sounds too good to be true, then it is. They lied in the 1990s and they are telling lies now.
The Toronto Star newspaper now refuses to post anymore of Vector’s job listings. The Toronto Star is the biggest newspaper in Canada.
In 1996, the Washington Post wrote about a survey of nearly a thousand Vector employees (“independent contractors”). Half of those surveyed either lost money or didn’t make any money working for the company. In 2004, the now defunct Complaint Station, a website where people could post their concerns and experiences with a company, had over 4,200 complaints against Vector/Cutco.
Lastly, the type of steel Cutco uses to make its knives with is 440A. That is the same type used to make the cheap knives sold at Wal-Mart. So why do they insist on making buyers and victims pay anywhere from $200 to $2,000 for their knife sets?
Personally speaking, I went in for an interview a few years ago. There was only one older person there, and he looked to be in his fifties. He was a former Marine looking for work. The manager didn’t call the old guy into his office like he did with the young folks. Instead, the manager asked him a little about himself, and then sent him away saying he’d call him. The manager then proceeded to interview all of the young people in his office. He knew he couldn’t pull the same stunts on this older man.
Many articles about the fraudulent practices of Vector have disappeared from the internet over the past few years, which leads me to believe that Vector is intimidating whistle-blowers, journalists, and others who speak out. Our Streets will not be intimidated.
If you are a high school or college student, or a young person who has had a bad experience with Vector, please share this article. Reblog it, Facebook it, Tweet it, email it, print it out, whatever you want to do. Don’t let your friends get scammed by Vector. If you see one of Vector’s shady posters, write “scam” on it so everyone will know. If any of you are reading this, I would like to humbly request the solidarity of Adbusters, Anonymous, SDS, or any labor union in the fight to stop Vector from scamming young people.