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Scientologists' 'hiring' practices draw criticism

CLEARWATER — In Pinellas County — with its 7 percent unemployment rate the signs on the four Church of Scientology buildings draw attention.

Two say simply, "Now Hiring." Others promise a job with "low pay — great future." One along busy U.S. 19 touts jobs for "kitchen personnel."

Two others boast: "We are recruiting."

What the signs don't say is that the Church of Scientology isn't looking for employees. It is trying to recruit members.

The signs also don't say that recruits have to sign two-and-a-half to five-year "binding" contract — part of which calls for recruits to pay fees for their training should they decide to leave the church.

In return, new staff members are provided room and board by the church but receive an allowance of only $24 for the 50 or more hours they work a week, a church spokesman confirmed.

Staff members are not provided with pensions, and the church does not contribute to their Social Security.

IN SHORT, what the Church of Scientology is offering is not a regular job — at least not in the sense that most Americans think of it.

But are the signs touting the jobs illegal?

No, said Christopher Garringer, the area manager for the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. The church can advertise for work in any way it desires, he said, nor does the department oversee how much the church pays its employees.

"They (the church) can be just about as misleading as they want to be," he said. State and federal laws do not deal with truth in employment advertising, he said.

Nonetheless, Clearwater Police Chief Sid Klein said the signs are "a part of our ongoing investigation" of the Clearwater-based Church of Scientology.

Klein said, however, that the signs are "only one small segment of what's obviously a very large concern here."

Klein refused to elaborate on the investigation other than to say that it focuses on allegations stemming from five days of public hearings the Clearwater City Commission held on the Church of Scientology in May 1982.

Signs advertising "jobs" adorn four of the Church of Scientology's buildings in upper Pinellas County.

A wooden placard in front of the former Fort Harrison Hotel, the international headquarters of the church, simply says, "Now Hiring."

A POSTER on the door of the old Bank of Clearwater building at 500 Cleveland St. — now containing church offices — promises more:

"Improve while you have a job!" the sign says. A headline proclaims, "We are recruiting," Underneath, it says, "Low pay — great future!"

Elsewhere on the building, a sign promises work for typists, clerks, dictatypists and "computer input." The sign adds, "Long hours but the work is honest and free."

None of the signs identifies who the prospective employer is. Few of the Church of Scientology buildings offer any indication of the group within.

Another sign hugs the shoulder of busy U.S. 19 S in front of the former Quality Inn, bought by the church in 1979.

That wooden sign solicits "Kitchen personnel. Maintenance — all types. And especially people who love to work with children."

The signs simply help the church "to find qualified who can agree with the goals and of purpose of the Church of Scientology," said spokesman Hugh Wilhere.

Wilhere said he does not think the signs are deceiving.

"Believe me, people get a good briefing on what to expect when they walk in the door," Wilhere said.

They learn right away about conditions that church staff work under and that work for the Church of Scientology entails becoming a member, he said.

"It's not (like working at) your local Winn-Dixie, and we don't make it out to be," he said.

The 800 or so staff members of the church in Clearwater are free to go "at any time," he said, adding that the positions are "totally voluntary."

Wilhere said the signs have not been successful at bringing new staff members to the church. Between five and eight people inquire about work each week, he said.

But in the year or so the signs have been up, "lees than five" persons have actually joined the Church of Scientology staff as a result of the signs, he said.

"A lot of people we find are unqualified anyway," he said. "And a lot of people are unhappy with the conditions of employment."

One of the people whose attention was attracted to the "Now Hiring" sign on U.S. 19 was Mary Allaire.

Earlier this year, she saw the sign and decided to inquire further about prospects for a job.

"I WAS JUST curious, mainly," said Mrs. Allaire, a 19-year-old former Seminole High School student.

She said she saw on the sign that the "job" would be low paying but "I figured they had to pay at least minimum wage."

A woman behind the counter told her she would need to give her name, address and telephone number before she could find out what kind of work was available, Mrs. Allaire said.

Afterward, the woman told her she had to go to an address on S Fort Harrison Avenue to find out about the job.

"As soon as she said S Fort Harrison, that's when I knew and that's when I asked if it had anything to do with Scientology," she said.

When the receptionist said it did, "I said, 'I don't want anything to do with that Thanks, but no thanks,' " she said.

Mrs. Allaire said she felt "deceived" that neither the sign nor the receptionist offered the information of the link to the Church of Scientology.

During the year the signs have been up, they have drawn no complaints to local consumer protection or law enforcement agencies.

Neither the Pinellas County consumer affairs office nor the Clearwater Police Department has received complaints about the signs.

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney James T. Russell says his office has received general complaints "concerning the way they (the Church of Scientology) solicit memberships."

BUT RUSSELL declined to say whether the complaints prompted him to investigate the manner in which the church is advertising for staff members.

The church appears to be continuing its recruitment efforts in Pinellas County.

The church regularly places classified advertising in local newspapers. The Clearwater Sun carried classified ads under its general employment category for the church last Thursday and Friday.

The ads begin: "Church is Recruiting" and provide an address for people to apply. The address is for the church's headquarters at the former Fort Harrison Hotel.

The church tried to place the same ad in the clarified listings of the St. Petersburg Times last week but was turned down, said Classified Advertising Manager Rich Higgins.

"It is really not a bona fide job offer," Rigging said. "There's got to be remuneration that most of our readers would find normally acceptable."

People identifying themselves as church members have tried regularly to place classified advertising in the Times, Rigging said. The advertising must be reviewed by the Times' advertising acceptance committee, he said.

Watson Haynes, manager of the Clearwater office of the Florida State Employment Service, said church officials have tried "two or three times" in the past and again "within the last two months" to list staff positions through that agency.

Haynes said his office is aware of the terms of the contract Church of Scientology staff members are asked to sign and for that reason refuses listings to the church.

"The whole area is a gray area, and because it's so gray it is better for us not to subject our clients to it," he said.

The Canadian documents

Documents filed by police in the Ontario Supreme Court in Toronto say the Church of Scientology in Canada also attempted to find recruits through classified ads.

The documents are part of 1,000 pages of information the Ontario Provincial Police filed with the court in order to obtain a search warrant for church offices in Toronto.

The documents stem from a two-year undercover investigation of the Toronto offices of the Church of Scientology for possible violations of Canadian tax law.

Ontario police obtained the warrant, and last March police went into church offices and hauled away 250,000 pages of church records. The court has sealed those records.

However, the sworn affidavit is open to the public, and Clearwater's City Attorney Tom Bustin made portions of it available in Clearwater City Hall three weeks ago.

Ontario Provincial Police have yet to file any formal charges against the Toronto church, although a court date has been set for Nov. 23.

A section of the affidavit deals with staff recruitment practices of the Church of Scientology in Toronto.

It calls the practices "akin to slave labor."

Although the affidavit notes that the Toronto chucrh, tried to recruit staff members through clarified ads, it focuses, among other things, on the contract recruits must sign.

The document alleges that church officials use the "binding" contract to pressure recruits into fulfilling their term with the church.

The contract contains what is called a "freeloaders" clause that requires staff members to pay back the cost of all courses they take from the church if they leave before their contract expires.

"If the staff member chooses to leave the Org (the church), he will be harassed and pressured to pay for the services which he received 'free,' " the affidavit reads.

SUCH A DEBT can run up to "several thousand" dollars, Wilhere acknowledged.

In Toronto, recruits are required to take three courses introducing them to the Church of Scientology hierarchy and giving them drills to learn its physical layout, the documents say.

Recruits are asked to sign promissory notes for the cost of the short courses, it says, and the notes can add up to $850.

Church officials demand payment of the promissory notes when a staff member "blows," or leaves the church organization, the documents say.

In Clearwater, recruits also must take courses to teach them skills about their position, Wilhere said. Staff members are given five hours a day either to study church material or to take courses, he said.

Invoice sheets are kept on staff members here to note the number and value of training courses they have had, Mid Richard Haworth of the church's local public affairs division.

Wilhere defended such a "freeloader" clause. "The church makes quite an investment in these people to train them," he said.

"We believe these courses are very valuable and help these individuals in their lives," he said.

But Wilhere said former staff members who "blow" are not required to pay off their debt unless "they wanted to come back into the church and continue their courses and their training."

The church has never used the contract to keep staff members at the church, he contended. "We don't get into trying to control the guy," he said.

[Picture / Caption: Signs like this one draw people to Scientology offices.]