Indentured Servitude: Making a Comeback?

servants Indentured Servitude: Making a Comeback?

Why pay wages? Just hold them against their will.

If you thought indentured servants went out of fashion with the Revolutionary War, you’re wrong: apparently the practice is alive and kicking, at least according to Ni Ketut Sulastri, a former employee who worked at Rose and Lawrence Halsey’s Water Mill estate in the Hamptons.

According to the New York Post, Ms. Sulastri, who was hired through an Indonesian intermediary, worked for the Halseys from 2005 to 2008 and is now suing the couple for the brutal and unfair treatment she experienced as their servant. For instance, instead of a promised salary of $450 a month and a 9-to-5 workday, Ms. Sulastri alleges that she earned only $350 a month and was forced to work 15 hour days. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Like Harry Potter himself, Ms. Sulastri claims that she was forced to sleep in a closet instead of in a real bedroom, and instead of being fed, well, normal food, she was given only leftovers and hot dogs. When she complained, she said that she was told, “Nothing is free in America,” and this certainly explains her frankfurter-heavy diet, which is about as close to free as you can come—according to chacha.com, an 8-pack of Oscar Mayer wieners costs a paltry $3.89.

The lawsuit also claims that the Halseys barred Ms. Sulastri from calling her home in Indonesia, confiscated her passport, and threatened her with a $3,000 fee if she ever left their estate.

Ms. Sulastri’s story leaves us with a few unanswered questions, namely how did she manage to end her servitude to the Halseys and why has it taken her four years to sue them? In any event, she is now proving that the Halseys’ lesson is true—nothing’s free in America, not even labor.

jschiewe@observer.com