A handful of Mexican guest workers walked off the job at CJ’s Seafood in Louisiana and filed a complaint with the U.S. Labor Department, alleging that the seafood processing plant forced them to work 24 hours at a time picking crawfish, while withholding breaks or any overtime pay.
The letter covers eight workers at in Breaux Bridge, LA who arrived in the U.S. this past spring to work in the H-2B program, a guest worker visa system that allows American businesses to hire foreign nationals when there is an insufficient number of local workers for a job. The guest workers claim to have put in double and triple shifts without any overtime compensation, and allege that doors to the plant were often locked to prevent workers from leaving.
One worker included in the complaint stated that she had seasonally worked in the same facility since 2006. This season she earned $2 for every pound of crawfish she peeled, which amounted to roughly $80 per day, and that she sometimes put in 14 hours shifts without any breaks. “We’re not allowed to take breaks,” she told reporters; “They locked the front entrance so we couldn’t.”
A manager at CJ’s Seafood would not return any calls or emails in response to the charges.
Like agriculture and landscaping, seafood processing is a line of work with significant dependence on guest workers on H-2B visas. Seafood companies in the Gulf say they’re unable to find local workers who want to pick meat out of crabs or do other dirty and repetitive work for the wages these companies pay. Many companies say the H-2B program is essential to keeping their businesses open, even though labor and human rights advocates claim that many guest workers live and work under exploitative conditions with insufficient government oversight.
The workers identified in the letter to the Labor Department were helped by an advocacy group called the National Guestworker Alliance, which represents and organizes laborers in work camps across the U.S. Jacob Horwitz, an organizer with NGA, claims that the Louisiana workers contacted him to complain about conditions in the crawfish processing plant. “They said they were subjected to constant humiliation and insults at the plant,” said Horwitz. “They were sweating to keep their production high.”
In addition to its failure to pay overtime wages, CJ’s Seafood has also been accused of “threatening the guest workers with beatings to make them work faster.”
Nonexempt employees who put in more than 40 hours per week are entitled to overtime pay. If you have been denied overtime wages, contact an employment attorney at Emery Reddy today. You should also be aware that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers or retaliate against them for submitting a workers compensation claim, disability claim, or for seeking benefits under the family and medical leave act. If you have experienced illegal employment practices, the Washington work injury lawyers at Emery Reddy we will defend your rights and help you receive the maximum compensation allowed.