From TheRepublic.com, Chuck Bartels, 5 Jan 2012.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal judge in Arkansas is on the verge of giving final approval to a settlement of a class-action lawsuit that would pay about 1,500 migrant workers a total of $1.5 million to make up for unpaid wages and expenses.
The lawsuit was brought in 2007 by the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of workers who packed tomatoes for Candy Brand LLC in Bradley County. Several other defendants were also named.
Settlement documents filed in U.S. District Court in El Dorado show the workers would travel to southern Arkansas to pack tomatoes during the eight-week summer harvest. The proposed settlement says they weren’t paid federally-mandated minimum wages or paid proper overtime.
Also, the workers weren’t reimbursed for their travel, temporary work visa fees and other costs and they weren’t paid at the halfway point of their contracts, according to the proposed settlement that was signed by both sides.
The suit, which alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, covers work done from 2003 through 2007, when the court action was filed. The settlement stipulates that it applies to workers who were legally and illegally in the U.S.
Final approval of the settlement is pending a March 27 hearing, which Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Michelle Lapointe said is largely a formality to allow members of the class to either opt out of the settlement and pursue their own lawsuit or to object to the deal’s terms.
Defense lawyers Hani W. Hashem of Monticello and F. Mattison Thomas III of El Dorado didn’t return messages seeking comment.
The settlement says the money will be placed in trust accounts and a settlement administrator will be in charge of making payments to the workers.
Lapointe said the transient nature of the workers “makes it a little bit more challenging to get in touch with everyone,” but she said the money can reach the workers.
“We’ve administered other settlements in cases involving migrant workers on temporary visas, many of whom have gone back to Mexico or Central America, and we’ve been able to track down a number of people and get the word out about the settlement funds that are available,” Lapointe said.