Nepalese were informed they could resign
Sunday, February 03,
By CHALLEN STEPHENS
Times Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Most didn't gohome; they found better jobs
As Huntsville's new labor strategy makes headlines on
the opposite side of the globe, the Nepalese workers who
continue to pack boxes at Cinram say their missing
countrymen didn't leave without an official OK.
On Nov. 29, a few weeks after the first of more than 200
guest workers from Nepal began labeling and packing DVDs at
Cinram's Huntsville plant, a letter marked
"Personal and Confidential" arrived at the
The short form letter stated that employment was at-will of
the company, adding that: "Employees are free to
relinquish their positions at any time, with or without
Ambassador Personnel, the temporary agency that technically
employs and pays the workers on behalf of Canadian-based
Cinram, sent the formal notice.
The workers from Nepal, many of them business owners in
their own country, say they interpreted this as a chance to
leave, many looking for higher-paying jobs elsewhere. At
Cinram, they earned $8 per hour but received fewer hours
than they hoped. More than 150 left.
"Why they are missing is their primary motivation is to
work and earn money," said Dr. Tilak Shrestha, a
Nepalese scientist here who has befriended several of the
workers. "There is not enough work and they went other
places to find better work than the Cinram."
"Before getting that letter, no one went other
places," said one of the remaining workers, who did not
wish to be identified for fear of retaliation.
Doug Wilson, the president of Ambassador, told The Times
last week that the missing workers had become homesick and
returned to Nepal early. Lynne Fisher, spokesperson for
Cinram, said the same, adding that Cinram notified Homeland
Security when the foreign workers did not report for work.
Wilson did not return calls Friday, and Fisher said she had
no knowledge of the letter and no comment. As of Friday,
Homeland Security had turned the matter over to Immigrations
and Customs Enforcement. "We're looking into the
matter," said ICE spokesman Temple Black.
The situation in Huntsville has led to stories in newspapers
in Nepal, a poor, mountainous nation separating China from
India. The situation has also drawn the interest of a Nepali
aid association in New York and led at least one Nepali
journalist to visit Huntsville.
Huntsville has entered into diplomatic territory, said
Shrestha, whether the people at Cinram realize it or not.
"It is about how the United States and the U.S.
government wants to deal with Third World people," he
said, adding that the workers would take home lessons and
opinions to share in a small, developing country.
"It's like a backward Peace Corps."
From October through early January, Cinram used a temporary
worker program known as the H-2B visa to bring 1,142
laborers to Huntsville. About 800 came from Jamaica, the
rest from Nepal, Bolivia, Ukraine and the Dominican
Today, fewer than 50 of more than 200 Nepali workers remain
at Cinram. At a meeting with Shrestha and five workers who
remain, all said they are confused by the use of the word
"missing" for their compatriots, who are permitted
to travel freely within the United States under their visas.
However, contrary to corporate explanations, one of the
remaining Nepali workers said only a few returned home.
"Many Nepalese went to work in other places, " he
Ambassador had arrangements with numerous landlords across
town to house the workers. Landlord Mary Snopl housed the
Nepalis, and she complained to a local TV station last week
that some of them had stolen furniture on their way out of
The workers say no one from the TV news station checked with
the remaining workers before the report. "They
haven't asked us anything. Just make news and go
away," said one worker.
The workers say some items may have appeared missing
because, when co-workers would leave, those who stayed would
borrow the plastic chairs, or replace a broken TV with a
working one. "None of these guys are going to run
around with a plastic table and dirty pans," said
A walk through the apartments in November - and again on
Friday - revealed plastic patio furniture, used sleeper
couches, beds, small $150 TV sets and old cookware.
"If that's the case, that's great," said
Snopl of the borrowed furniture, although she hadn't
"They're very nice, the group that we have
left," she said. "We feel bad they're taking
some of the heat for what some of the other people from
their country did. They are hard workers, they sure would
like more hours at Cinram."
Snopl also said that Ambassador ought to have better vetted
the more than 20 landlords before divvying up the guest
workers as they arrived.
Back in Nepal last fall, the workers say they never heard of
Ambassador. The workers produced contracts signed in Nepal
that show only Cinram and the name of a director of human
resources for Cinram's Huntsville plant. The contract
promises $8 per hour, $12 for overtime. "Substantial
overtime is generally available," reads the contract.
However, since the end of the Christmas busy season, workers
have had little overtime, working only 33 hours one week, 44
the next. Checks range between $200 to $300 on average
Of the five workers assembled on Thursday, one ran a
cigarette distributorship, one worked for his national
airlines, one was an electrician, another a motorcycle
dealer. All speak English, as it is compulsory in school in
Nepal, a nation of Hindus and Buddhists.
One worker said he paid $750 to come here. Others paid more,
but would not go into details. Most plan to return to their
jobs after May 31. "If Cinram was providing 40 hours a
week then they would not go anywhere else," said
However, Santosh Pokhrel, a former Nepali journalist who
runs a gas station in Madison, said some of the workers told
him they paid up to $25,000 for the chance to come here.
"The honest answer is they are not going back until
they make their money," said Pokhrel during a separate
interview. "It's like a Mexican pays a coyote to
cross the border."
Pokhrel said about 100 Nepali families live in the
Huntsville area. He said he and others had spoken with some
of the workers after the news surfaced this week.
According to the CIA's world factbook: "Nepal is
among the poorest and least developed countries in the world
with almost one-third of its population living below the
"You can barely find a job back home," said Anand
Lepcha, who works in a restaurant here. "Finding a job
is big dreams."
The workers are dispersing to any city where they may know a
friend or relative or have a line on work, said Pokhrel, but
they aren't staying here. "They won't find
anything because you have to drive a car in