08/24/2006

SPLC Alleges Retaliation Against Fired Guestworker

The Center charged today that a New Orleans hotel chain violated federal labor standards by firing the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging the exploitation of Latin American guestworkers who were recruited to fill jobs vacated by Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

Daniel Castellanos Contreras, who traveled from Peru to work for Decatur Hotels LLC, was summarily fired two days after he and 81 other guestworkers sued the hotel chain and its president, J. Patrick Quinn III.

"I was fired for standing up," Castellanos said.

The Center filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board on his behalf and amended its federal lawsuit to include the charge of illegal retaliation.

The lawsuit alleges that Decatur Hotels and Quinn violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to reimburse workers for the exorbitant fees they paid to aggressive labor recruiters working as agents for the hotel chain. Decatur owns about a dozen hotels in New Orleans and is one of the largest locally owned hotel chains in Louisiana.

To pay labor recruiters in their home countries, the workers from Peru, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic plunged their families into debt and now find themselves unable to earn enough to repay that debt. Recruiters charged workers between $3,500 and $5,000 to take them to New Orleans under the federal government's H-2B guestworker program. Workers say they were promised 40 hours of work per week and plenty of overtime. Instead, they found themselves working about 25 hours a week, sometimes far less. Under current immigration law, they are bound to their employer and unable to legally work for anyone else.

Guestworkers gathered outside of Quinn's corporate offices, calling for a "moratorium on scare tactics" and demanded Castellanos' immediate reinstatement.

"Daniel was selected by the workers as a leader," said Decatur guestworker Luis Lopez. "He asked Quinn for our rights. Retaliation against him is retaliation against us."