05/2006

Asserting Their Rights

It is virtually impossible for most workers to file complaints about exploitation on the job. Workers are extremely isolated and transient, moving from one rural hotel or campground to another while in the U.S. They speak little English and have little contact with members of the local community. H-2B workers (unlike H-2A workers) are generally not eligible for federally funded legal services, even though they are in the U.S. legally. When workers do file a complaint, they face severe retaliation from employers and recruiters.

"When the supervisor would see that a person was ready to leave the job because the pay was so bad, he would take our papers from us. He would rip up our visa and say, 'You don't want to work? Get out of here then. You don't want to work? Right now I will call immigration to take your papers and deport you.'" 

Otto Rafael Boton-Gonzalez, H-2B forestry worker

"The man said that if [my son] did not end the lawsuit, that something could happen to him. He could be killed, he could be put in jail or prison. The man asked me what I would do if that were to happen to my son." 

Leonarda Recinos-Alvarado, mother of H-2B forestry worker

"[The company representative] told me that [the white man] told him that it wouldn't be difficult for him to arrive in [our town] to destroy the plaintiffs in the case against the company." 

Milder Ronaldo Velasquez-Diaz, H-2B forestry worker

"[The company recruiter] told us that if we did not drop the lawsuit, we were going to have problems being recruited to work in the United States." 

Marco Antonio Salinas, H-2B forestry worker

"They told me that I should be careful because some people could kill me because of the lawsuit that I have filed against the company . . ." 

Margarito Recinos-Villatoro, H-2B forestry worker

"[The company representative who came to my house] told me that all of the Guatemalans are going to lose work through the fault of only 6 people who have brought this lawsuit." 

Leonel Hernandez-Lopez, H-2B forestry worker

"[The company representative] told me something could happen to my husband in the United States if he did not withdraw the case. They can put him in jail, they can send him to Guatemala, or they can outright kill him, they said." 

Maria Jimenez-Hernandez de Recinos, wife of H-2B forestry worker

"The Court finds that the plaintiffs produced competent evidence … to establish that a campaign designed to threaten, intimidate and coerce plaintiffs, opt-in plaintiffs and potential class members to capitulate and withdraw their pending claims was in fact perpetrated." 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles in an order granting protective order -- Recinos-Recinos v. Express Forestry, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Division, Case No. 05-1355