Amsterdam’s Hiring of Alcoholics and Addicts Has Logic (and Benefits)

As anyone who's had the challenge knows, designing a position, establishing the appropriate compensation range, and determining the most relevant qualifications to attract a pool of applicants is far from simple. And that's only stage one.

Interviewing, obtaining solid references, running background checks, and negotiating an acceptable package with your candidate of choice can be arduous. But if you're hiring a street sweeper -- remember, that's what your mother told you would become when you got poor grades -- perhaps the hiring process can be whole lot less rigorous.

In eastern Amsterdam (hat-tip to Gert, our Spend Matters Netherlands editor), the process of hiring and compensating street sweepers is not only out-of-the-receptical, it may also have a social benefit -- sort of. As the NY Times reported, Amsterdam is hiring alcoholics to sweep their streets. They must arrive looking sharp and wearing a red tie, at 9:00 AM when they're paid their first remuneration of the day, which takes the form of two cans of beer.

The sweepers are prohibited from drinking on the job, per se ("receive two more cans at lunch and then another can or, if all goes smoothly, two to round off a productive day"). The city is also price-conscious ("the brand varies depending upon which brewery offers the best price”). And just in case you're thinking that these laborers are being under-compensated, "each member of the cleaning team [also] gets half a packet of rolling tobacco, free lunch and 10 euros a day, or about $13.55."

The program that is "mostly government-funded... [and] helps the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics get back on their feet, is so popular that there is a long waiting list of chronic alcoholics eager to join the beer-fueled cleaning teams." And despite the fact that the U.S. is unlikely to come on board with such a program any time soon, there is some logic to it.

Addiction and substance abuse with drugs, alcohol, and food -- to just name a few – remain problems in the U.S. Shunning and relegating addicts who have not been reformed via more traditional programs fosters a persistent plight with significant economic externalities upon the rest of society. Or as one Dutch street sweeper is quoted saying, “I’m not proud of being an alcoholic, but I am proud to have a job again.”

The basic idea, reports the Times, "is to extend to alcoholics an approach first developed to help heroin addicts, who have for years been provided with free methadone, a less dangerous substitute, in a controlled environment that provides access to health workers and counselors." When I was a construction general contractor, I witnessed some success with a watered down version of this endeavor, hiring neighborhood addicts and homeless people to clean up local job sites. They were never straight so to speak, but performed adequately, appreciated the opportunity, and quite a few were sufficiently bolstered in terms of self esteem to seek treatment.

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