April 10, 2011

EVEN THE CARNIES ARE SUPERIOR (via Brandon Heathcotte):

Immigrant carnival workers bring strong work ethic, drug-free culture (Richard Ruelas, Apr. 8, 2011, The Arizona Republic)

The work is grueling and repetitive. Two men scramble along the frame of the Flying Bobs ride, balance themselves on the edge, hoist a side panel up 20 feet and lock it into place. They will repeat this 16 more times.

One ride over, men in hard hats guide down 15-foot steel pieces that form the foundation of the Victory Lane ride.

At the carousel, 74 animals need to be lifted out of a truck, bolted into place, then polished. Every time the carnival moves, the routines reverse themselves.

When they're not working, the employees stay on the carnival grounds, living out of bunkhouse trailer that contain bunk-bed compartments, stacked like a railroad sleeper car, just big enough to sleep in.

Carnival culture involves living this way for months on end. It's a life that used to attract men who enjoyed working with their hands and drifting around the country.

But Vomberg says those workers don't exist in the United States anymore. Especially ones who can routinely pass a random drug screening.

Vomberg knows that, in a nation with an unemployment rate at around 9 percent, people will bristle at the notion that there are jobs Americans won't take, but he said, "People can't deal with the truth."

Vomberg, a self-described conservative Republican, said the new wave of workers has made the carnival more profitable. They are able to set up quicker, allowing the carnival to run more nights. The change also has lowered the carnival's workers' compensation claims and liability insurance.

But the biggest change is the end of the rampant drug culture. Vomberg said drug dealers used to knock on workers' bunkhouse trailers at night, knowing they had a willing market. That has ended, he said.

During the carnival's weeks in Arizona, Vomberg said it had drug-tested 20 employees. Five came back positive for marijuana. "All native Americans," he said, meaning U.S.-born employees.

"There is a public trust," Vomberg said. "When people come out here with their kids, they want clean and safe operators. It's a moral obligation."

For the immigrant workers, it means about nine months away from their families, keeping in touch through cellphone calls and pictures. But it also means a decent, steady income. Workers are hired making $325 to $350 a week, after taxes, Vomberg said. Supervisors and foremen can make between $700 and upwards of $1,000 weekly.

Posted by at April 10, 2011 1:15 PM

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