When Florida International University sophomore and communication major Linda Wharton received a letter offering her a job at “$15 base pay” and the opportunity to set her own hours, she was skeptical and curious, but most importantly — desperate. “I hadn’t found a job yet, and I was running out of options, so I called them up … I scheduled an interview for the next day, got the job and went to training,” said Wharton.
During 21 hours of training spread out over a three-day weekend, Wharton realized she would have to spend $147 before even beginning to work for the company.
The company Wharton almost worked for is Vector Marketing, a cutlery-selling company that advertises almost exclusively on college campuses and mainly hires students. Vector salespeople sell knives by showing them to potential customers at their homes.
While Vector’s ads promise double-digit base pay, they fail to mention the strings attached to their salaries. Because of this, former workers have successfully sued the company for wages they should have received, and several have even created an anti-Vector organization.
Although Wharton left Vector when she found out she would have to spend $147 to begin working, other students stayed and tried to earn money selling cutlery for the company, many of them failing.
In the summer of 2002, unemployed University of Florida student Vladimir Negron read an advertisement for Vector in a newspaper. “I started looking for a summer job that would just pay for going out to the movies or whatever.”
Negron claims the ad sounded promising, as the job allowed its employees to make their own hours and a good salary. Though he felt the ad was vague, he answered it.
The vagueness didn’t stop with a broadly-worded ad, as Negron didn’t know what he’d be doing until the second day of training.
Like Wharton, training took three days out of Negron’s summer, but Vector didn’t mention that training was neither paid nor mandatory.
During training, Negron recalls a trainer advising him to start selling to family and friends as a way of “building confidence.”
In reality, family and friends often end up buying the products just because they’re related to the Vector salesperson.
Such was the case with Sebastian Albanil, a sophomore music history major at Palm Beach Community College. Albanil did three product demonstrations for his friends, none of whom bought anything, and his mom, who bought his sample set for $200. “Mom just wanted to help me out,” said Albanil.
He quit Vector shortly afterward.
Other students, like FIU sophomore Ana Diaz, quit after feeling overpressured by Vector to begin selling to friends and family members right off the bat. “I decided to leave when I kept getting calls from [Vector] two to three times a day and I hadn’t even started these appointments yet. They were pressuring me on getting more contacts and calling.”
Eventually she refunded her starter kit, noting that the manager was hassling her about terminating the job”[The manager] kept asking why I wanted to leave, and I told her that it just wasn’t for me. She got really upset and gave me back the paper with my credit card information and said, ‘Here, you can rip it up, and everyone here’s going to be successful.'”
Despite everything, salespeople like Negron were determined to sell knives in order to make money. After a month of sales he was able to break even.
“As soon as I made the money I had spent … I just left.”
Vector advertises its minimum salary as “$15 base pay,” but it’s not a per hour basis; it’s per product demonstration. While the minimum pay sounds high, company policies greatly restrict how many product demonstrations a salesperson can do to the point where they’re making slightly above minimum wage. (See below for rules and regulations.)
Not only has Vector Marketing been sued for wage discrepancies, but also for the way they classify their salespeople. Vector classifies their salespersons as independent contractors, but they treat them like employees. Employees are eligible for health and unemployment benefits, work for hourly pay, have set schedules and receive paid compensation for training, while independent contractors don’t have any of these benefits. Numerous court cases have found that the company has deprived workers of pay by not classifying them as employees.
One way former Vector salespeople have shown outrage toward the company is by joining Students Against Vector Exploitation (SAVE), an anti-Vector group founded by ex-Vector salesperson Lauren Katz. According to SAVE, Vector makes its money from trainees paying $140 to $150 for a starter set of knives. (See below for legal actions and more info on Katz.)
SAVE discusses its progress in its campaign against Vector on the 17th of each month, but neither Katz nor any of SAVE’s co-founders could be reached for comment.Vector Marketing is a lightning rod for controversy, as former workers have spoken out against and even sued the sales company.
For a first-hand account of the Vector training process, click here.
LEGAL ACTION AGAINST VECTOR
1992. Vector Marketing v. Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission: The Maine State Supreme Court rules that Vector treated its former workers as employees. Vector was ordered to give ex-workers unemployment compensation. [Source: www.versuslaw.com]
1994. Wisconsin filed an official complaint against Vector for “misleading job-seeking college students” after placing ads claiming to pay $10.11/hour. A state report of 240 college students employed by Vector found they were making an average of $2.38/hour. Vector Marketing then changed its ads from “per hour” to “base pay.” [Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
1999. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission sued Vector for engaging in “conduct … that was misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive” due to misrepresentation of advertisements.[Source: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission]
2003. In New York, Lauren Katz, a former Vector salesperson, successfully sued the company for paying her less than she deserved. She was awarded compensation for her unpaid training and went on to form Students Against Vector Exploitation. [Source: The Daily of the University of Washington]
2006. In Wisconsin, a former Vector salesman, Sherman D. Pitts, sued Vector for wage compensation. After a state court initially ruled in favor of Vector, the decision was appealed and overturned by a higher court. Vector was ordered to pay Pitts the money he deserved, but he has yet to receive a single dime.[Source: Sherman D. Pitts]
RULES AND REGULATIONSThe truth behind the “$15 base pay” and promise of working your own hours
1. To get paid, a salesperson must give a product demonstration to a customer. However, demonstrations can’t be scheduled within an hour of each other, so in an eight-hour work schedule a salesperson can only do, at most, four demonstrations. A salesperson earning $60 for eight hours of demonstrations is equivalent to only $7.50 per hour.
2. Every Wednesday night, from 9 to 11 p.m., there’s a meeting at a Vector office that’s said to be mandatory. If a salesperson doesn’t attend the meeting, they must attend one at 6:30 p.m. the next day.
3. Each morning, before 9:30 a.m., a salesperson must call the office to tell the manager how many demonstrations they plan on doing.
4. Every Friday, a salesperson has to go to an office to drop off their week of sales reports. Because there are very few Vector offices, salespeople may have to drive over 20 miles to get to the nearest one.
Recap: If a salesperson wishes to earn the “$15 base pay,” they will actually be earning $7.50/hour. As for a flexible schedule, salespeople are required to attend late-night meetings, wake up early to tell their boss what they’re doing, and take time out of their Fridays to drop off their sales reports at an office that could be located far away.
[Source: Vector training experience]