FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 25, 2020
Contact: Marí Perales Sánchez (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Four Star Greenhouse sought to evade responsibility for thousands in wages owed to its workers, benefited from labor trafficking, and allowed workers who complained to be deported by Immigration Authorities.
YPSILANTI, MI – Today, six workers from Mexico, who traveled to the U.S. on H-2A visas in 2017 and 2018, filed a lawsuit against Four Star Greenhouse, Inc. (Four Star), source of nationwide Proven Winners® plants, for unpaid wages, knowingly benefiting from labor trafficking and retaliation. Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM), a transnational workers’ rights organization, and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) and Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan (FLS) are representing the workers in the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Through a third-party agent, Four Star hired Gerardo Santiago Hernandez, Eduardo Reyes Trujillo, and four other workers from Mexico to work at its sprawling nursery in Michigan’s Monroe County. Four Star had complete authority over the workers during the workday, including scheduling, directly supervising their work, and timekeeping, and the workers performed jobs integral to Four Star’s business. Under the false promise that their visa had been extended, Four Star, acting through its recruiting agent, mandated workers to continue working, despite a total lack of pay, and in the face of threats of blacklisting if they refused. The workers were forced to work for weeks without compensation.
The plaintiffs raised multiple complaints about nonpayment but were instead retaliated against. Four Star’s agent lured Plaintiffs and several other workers from their migrant camp by the claim that a housing inspection would be taking place and to vacate the premises. Instead, Four Star’s agent took the workers to immigration officials who were waiting for them in a Walmart parking lot. After over a month in a Michigan immigration detention facility, the plaintiffs ultimately paid hundreds of dollars to return to Mexico.
For years, CDM has documented thousands of cases of abuse for guestworkers. The limited oversight and transparency and the lack of labor mobility embedded in the structure of guestworker programs facilitate exploitation and labor trafficking. CDM’s report Ripe for Reform: Abuses of Agricultural Workers in the H-2A program, based on 100 interviews with H-2A workers nationwide, found that all workers interviewed faced at least one serious legal violation of the program’s rules and regulations. About a third of workers interviewed did not feel free to quit, citing fears of retaliation, blacklisting, and deportation, and 34% experienced restrictions on their mobility respectively, both indicators of human trafficking.
Nationwide, the H-2A program has more than tripled in size in the last decade, with the federal government certifying more than a quarter million positions for H-2A workers. In 2018, Michigan alone had 8,359 H-2A certified positions in the state. H-2A migrant workers harvest potatoes, apples, and broccoli among other crops in addition to working in greenhouses like Four Star’s. With only a few hundred available positions in 2012 to almost ten thousand H-2A positions in 2018, the program expanded by more than 26 times in just six years.
“It’s unjust for us to travel so far – to be separated from our families and at points, not even know how they are doing- and then for our employers to fail to fulfill their promises to us, not pay us, and retaliate against us. It is not fair,” shared Eduardo Reyes Trujillo, one of the workers filing the suit.
“We received so many false promises. It shouldn’t be possible for us to work so hard and not get paid as one should – for me that is corruption. I am grateful that today we are fighting for our rights,” shared Gerardo Santiago Hernandez.
“These brave workers’ case demonstrates how the H-2A program in fact facilitates unlawful employer practices like human trafficking and retaliation. Unfortunately, it also shows how often federal immigration authorities support low-road employers’ illicit conduct rather than standing up for vulnerable migrant workers,” said Centro de los Derechos del Migrante Legal Director, Ben Botts.
Supervising Attorney, Olivia Villegas of Farmworker Legal Services stated, “Farmworker Legal Services stands together with the courageous workers who are asserting their rights and demanding justice. This case is one example of how unscrupulous employers utilize the H-2A program to exploit workers. Workers should never be compelled to work out of fear of retaliation.”
“These workers traveled thousands of miles, and gave hundreds of hours of their labor under false promises that they would be paid, lies about their visas and threats to their future job opportunities. Despite facing retaliation, they have continued to bravely come forward, for themselves, and so many other workers who deserve justice,” stated Anna Hill, Lead Attorney at Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
About Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM)
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM) envisions a world where migrant workers’ rights are respected, and laws and policies reflect their voices. Through education, outreach, and leadership development; intake, evaluation, and referral services; litigation support and direct representation; and policy advocacy; CDM empowers Mexico-based migrant workers to defend and protect their rights as they move between their home communities in Mexico and their workplaces in the United States. www.cdmigrante.org
About Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan
FLS fights for justice and dignity alongside the farmworker community. For over 20 years, FLS has conducted outreach at migrant labor camps throughout the state of Michigan; offered technical assistance, referrals, advice, and intake services to farmworkers through the statewide Farmworker and Immigrant Worker Hotline; and represented farmworkers in cases involving immigration, unlawful recruitment fees, wage theft, substandard housing or working conditions, retaliation, discrimination, and other exploitative schemes. FLS is committed to ensuring immigrant, migrant, and seasonal farmworkers’ equal access to economic and social justice through civil impact litigation in employment and civil rights cases. farmworkerlaw.org.
About Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC)
MIRC is a statewide legal resource center for Michigan’s immigrant communities that works to build a thriving Michigan where immigrant communities experience equity and belonging. MIRC’s work is rooted in three pillars: direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community engagement and education. MIRC’s Farmworker and Immigrant Worker Rights practice focuses on representing farmworkers with their employment and civil rights matters and specializes in cases at the intersection of workplace and immigrant rights. michiganimmigrant.org