Monday 8 March 2010

LA Press Conference 1: Marc Headley's Speech

Marc Headley spelled out the punishing schedule to which Sea Org members were subjected – and explained why people could not just up and leave when they wanted.

Sea Org veteran Marc Headley told how he had worked at Scientology’s international headquarters between 1990 until 2005, recruited at the age of 16 from a Scientology school in Los Angeles.

“When I was originally recruited I was promised good pay, vacations, time off on the weekends – and what I actually experienced in the 15 years that I worked there was far from that.”

Headley worked at Gold Era Productions, which makes Scientology films and videos lectures for distribution to the movement’s centres worldwide.

It is based near Hemet in California at the compound known variously as Gold Base, Int Base or just Int, where Scientology leader David Miscavige and other senior executives are based.

An average day started at 7.30 am through until midnight, he said. “That was our schedule, seven days a week, pretty much every week of the year.”

If they were producing well, their three daily meal breaks would be extended from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, said Headley.

If they were doing well around the end of the year they might get part of Christmas Day off, he added.

“If we were doing really well we would get maybe a 30- or 45-minute meal break on Thanksgiving as a reward – just to give you kind of an idea of the environment there…”

He had calculated that for the entire 15 years he had been at Golden Era Productions, working more than 100 hours a week, every week, he had earned 29,000 dollars.

That worked out at less than 40 cents an hour, he said.

After he left, he got hold of his social security records, which included an itemised breakdown of how much he had earned every year, he added.

“One of the years – I think it was the year 2000 – I made eleven hundred dollars for the entire year… That’s how much money I was paid for working 100 hours a week, every week of the year.”

Yet despite the punishing hours he worked and the pitifully small wages he received, Headley said he had received what is known as a “Freeloader’s Bill” from Scientology after he quit the movement.

This bill, for more than 150,000 dollars, was what the movement said was the value of the training and courses he had received while working in the Sea Org.

And so far as pay and conditions were concerned, his case was not an isolated instance, said Headley: most Sea Org members worldwide would be paid a maximum of 50 dollars a week.

He cited one case in which a Sea Org member found himself working on videos beside an industry professional. (Staff at Golden Era production sometimes brought in outsiders when they could not get the job done on their own.)

The Scientologist was earning “about seven bucks a day”, said Headley: his colleague from “the real world” was being paid twelve hundred dollars a day for the same work.

Somebody had once worked out for him what the hours he had worked at Golden Era represented in terms of a standard, eight-hour working day, he said.

Given the hours per week he had put in during his 15 years at Golden Era,

“If that were translated into a nine-to-five job in the real world I would have worked 40 years’ worth of a nine-to-five job at Golden Era,” said Headley.

“I am not even 40 years old right now – so before I was even 35 years old, I had worked 40 years’ worth of a nine-to-five job, starting at 16 years of age, at Golden Era Productions.”

Headley also dismissed any suggestion that Scientology could not afford to pay its staff a living wage.

Headley worked in a cassette-manufacturing plant when he first started at the Int Base.

They were expected to produce 50,000 cassettes every week for sale to Scientology organisations all around the world.

“Those cassettes would sell from anywhere from 20 to 75 dollars each,” he said.

From their production alone then – the work of 10 or 15 people – he calculated that Scientology had a potential income of nearly four million dollars a week.

Later in his Sea Org career Headley designed, built and installed audio-visual systems for Scientology centres around the world.

Head office charged around 300,000 dollars to any Scientology centre that had one installed, he said – and they were still selling and installing the same system, he said.

“They have probably made upwards of 10 or 15 million dollars just on the systems that I installed or built for them while I was there,” said Headley.

“So there is no lack of funds to be able to pay the people that are working for them.”

“Why didn’t you just leave?”

Headley also addressed a question that several people had put to him: if it was so bad in Scientology, why had he not just left?

He gave a brief description of his escape from Int Base – described in more detail in his book – when in January 2005 he left the compound on his motorbike without authorisation.[1]

“Within 30 seconds of me leaving I was being followed by an SUV that belonged to the security personnel there at the compound,”

They chased him down the highway yelling at him to come back and when he ignored them they ran him off the road.

A passing motorist called 911 and within five minutes the sheriff’s deputies arrived (his pursuers had already quit the scene).

“The only reason I was able to escape was because I had police assistance,” Headley stressed.

Two deputies insisted on escorting him into town and stayed with him to head off further attempts by Scientology’s staff to retrieve him.[2]

“So when people say why didn’t you just leave – that’s why. Because when you’re there you see and you hear what happens to people that try and leave, and most of the time they are brought back…it’s not the easiest thing for somebody that works there to actually to be able to get out.

“And then even then, once you do get out, you don’t have any money; you haven’t lived in the real world; you don’t even know if you are going to be able to get a job, if you are going to be able to eat tomorrow.”

All these factors helped explain why more people had not left, he said. And of those who did get out, many were too intimidated by harassment to speak out.

In recent days, several of his fellow speakers had witnessed private investigators following him around Los Angeles.

“I had private investigators dig through my trash, follow me taking my kids to school in the morning, following me to the grocery store: so there’s no shortage of things that the Scientology organisation would do to silence their critics.

For this reason, many of those who have quit the movement will not speak out. But in recent months more and more people were telling their stories.

He hoped press coverage of this event would help spread the word about Scientology abuses, he said.

“Hopefully we can end this and other people don’t have to suffer like I have.”[3]

[1] Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology.
[2] Marc referred to police reports that corroborated his story: an extract from one such report is available at Glosslip’s site here.
[3] For the video of Marc Headley’s – and those of the other speakers, see Mark Bunker’s page on the press conference here.

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