Guest Worker Program, H-2A, Litigation

Cheated Farmworkers Win Court Victory

From NewAmericaMedia.org, Mario Wire, 7 Jun 2011.

One of the Southeast’s largest employers of foreign guestworkers will be held accountable for routinely cheating workers out of their wages under a recent federal court ruling in a suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Some 1,500 guestworkers could recover more than $2 million, ImmigrationProf blog reported.

The ruling against Candy Brand LLC, an Arkansas company, and its owners also sets a precedent that will make it more difficult for companies and their owners to skirt their responsibilities to workers.

“These workers, who toiled away day in and day out harvesting and packing the vegetables that feed our country, were routinely cheated out of their wages,” said Jim Knoepp, lead attorney on the case. “This decision sends a message that despite all the complex corporate maneuvering, individuals responsible for failing to pay their employees will be held accountable.”

The workers harvested and packed tomatoes and performed other agricultural work for Candy Brand in Bradley Co., Arkansas, from 2003 to 2007. The 2007 lawsuit alleged that the company failed to pay federally mandated overtime wages for work in its packing sheds and the prevailing wage for work in the fields. The company also refused to reimburse workers for the exorbitant travel, visa and other fees they paid to obtain the jobs – a problem commonly faced by guestworkers who are recruited from other countries.

Candy Brand’s refusal to reimburse its guestworkers in their first week of work violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), resulting in workers earning substantially less than the minimum wage. The failure to pay overtime wages and reimburse expenses was also a breach of the workers’ contracts, U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson ruled in the May 20 order. See the ruling here.

The plaintiffs are migrant farmworkers who came to the United States on temporary H-2A guestworker visas. The lawsuit sought restitution of unpaid wages, an award of money damages and a court order requiring the defendants to comply with federal regulations governing the H-2A program. The ruling came in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.

Source: NewAmericaMedia.org, “Cheated Farmworkers Win Court Victory” by Mario Wire, 7 Jun 2011.

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