New Jersey cleaning company hangs Polish students out to dry by reneging on promised summer work

For the first few weeks in July, three Polish students wandered around New York after a New Jersey-based company, which promised them work and a place to live, left them with nothing. The students have been saving money by barely eating, but the company’s boss claims he didn’t promise them anything.

Maciek Gapski, Marcin Drwecki and Daniel Furmankiewicz study law at the Lublin Catholic University in Poland. They are 23 years old. Like many of their peers, they were tempted by the “work and travel” offer of a Polish company called Student Center. Student Center charged them a lot of money to arrange their visas, travel, employment and accommodations in the United States. The then-happy students signed a contract promising them work accommodations with Prime Cleaning Company of Ridgewood, NJ.

On July 3, they arrived at New York’s JFK airport and, from the Arrivals Hall, they called the telephone number in the contract.

“The voice on the phone was rude. The man refused to tell us his name. He said he didn’t have to. He also told us we couldn’t speak to the boss because he was out of the office,” Maciek said. “He was surprised, though, that we called before the long weekend, because everyone is on vacation and we couldn’t count on anything before Monday.”

“There is nothing about an inconvenient time to call in the contract,” added Daniel. “We thought we could arrive whenever we wanted and ask for the job and apartment due to us. That is what they told us in the office in Poland.”

To the voice, they mentioned the apartment Prime Cleaning had guaranteed for $200 per month. The voice told them there were no more rooms and they would have to manage on their own. Then the man hung up.

It was late in the afternoon. Tired and with loads of luggage, the students stood in the middle of the Arrivals Hall, figuring out what to do next. “At first, we wanted to go to New Jersey but we realized we had no address. The contract listed only a post office box and telephone number. We had no other choice but to stay optimistic and wait until Monday.”

At the airport hotel information desk, they asked for a cheap place to stay. They were directed to the Pennsylvania Hotel in Manhattan, at the bargain rate of $45 per night. Two days later, they found spaces in the Greenpoint YMCA for $27, including breakfast. “We asked ourselves why [the information desk clerks] sent us to Pennsylvania Hotel, and not a cheaper place. Then we understood that Americans think ‘Manhattan’ when they hear ‘New York City’” Maciej explained.

They lived at the YMCA all weekend, looking for work and believing things would get better by Monday. “We called the NJ office at 9 a.m. This time, the boss picked up the phone. He told us he had no work for us and we should call tomorrow. Maybe then he’d know something. He also told us he had no apartment for us,” Marcin reported.

The students had already checked out of the YMCA, but were considering returning.

“We will wait until tomorrow. Maybe something will happen,” Maciek said.

“In fact, we decided to wait until Friday. If we don’t find a job, we will just return to Poland. We are running out of money, but we must pay for the hotel even though the rates are pretty high. We skimp on food,” Daniel explained.

Paul Hajduk, who owns Prime Cleaning, claimed he has no obligation to secure work for the students. “I only made them an offer,” he told Nowy Dziennik. “The contract doesn’t exactly say they would work for me. I only promised to give them a job or apartment should these be available. Meanwhile, there are 10 people from Poland, Hungary and Slovakia living in the apartment now. There isn’t even room to swing a cat. I don’t think this will change in the next few days,” Hajduk said. He didn’t want to say why he misinformed the Poles by not telling them start looking for work and lodging in New York.

Maciek, Marcin and Daniel didn’t give up hope nor lose their wits. “We called our parents,” the students said. “They told us not to worry but to eat and not to dehydrate. They also told us to find a shelter and not to sleep outdoors because it may be dangerous.”

They are searching the classified ads in the Polish newspapers to find jobs.

Marcin has the right approach. “I believe we will have to stay. If we don’t hear about the job for us by tomorrow, we will find one on our own. Anyway, we are strong and healthy with a permit to work in United States and we know English. We will manage somehow.”

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