Atlanta, Georgia — Five Mexican workers recruited to work on temporary H-2B visas have filed a lawsuit against Atlanta-based construction company Precision 2000, its side-company Casa Properties, and the owners of these companies (“Defendants”). Juan Servando Garcia Robelo and four other workers are seeking unpaid wages and damages due to unlawfully mandated housing fees, retaliation, breach of contract, and discrimination. Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM) and Buckley Beal, LLP are representing the workers in the case in the United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia.
Precision 2000, an Atlanta-based construction company which commonly contracts with government agencies, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recruited workers in Mexico to temporarily relocate to Georgia and work construction jobs under the H-2B guestworker program. Precision 2000 promised to pay workers wages that complied with federal and state law, and contracted with them to provide affordable housing from April through December 2019. These promises were false.
Upon the workers’ arrival, the Defendants charged Garcia Robelo, and the other plaintiffs exorbitant fees in exchange for overcrowded, often sweltering substandard housing. The workers, who are all from Mexico, also allege that Precision 2000 engaged in discrimination by forcing them to live in substandard housing and telling them they could go back to Mexico if they did not want to live in the housing.
Regarding the housing conditions, one of the workers explained, “I shared a room with three other people—it was so crowded that not two people could walk and exit the room at the same time. In total, there were about thirteen of us in the house, and we each paid $450 a month. I feel as though they were trying to use us and the rental charges they charged of us to fund their actual construction projects.”
The H-2B program allows U.S. employers to recruit workers to perform temporary nonagricultual labor, including construction, landscaping and seafood processing. Workers on H-2B visas are mostly from Mexico.
The workers raised complaints about the excessive rental charges and asked to seek alternative housing. Precision 2000, its side-company, Casa Properties and the individual Defendants refused— indicating that living in their housing was a condition of employment. When the Plaintiffs the workers persisted in complaining, the defendants retaliated by firing them before their contracts were over, and forcing the workers return to Mexico.
“We were fired in such unjust way. We need to be treated with dignity — for necessity, we sometimes put up with horrible situations. I lived in such sweltering housing. I complained about the situation several times, but they did not care about us — all they cared about was that we did work. I hope there is justice,” described Juan Servando Garcia Robelo, a worker in the case.
The government has consistently compromised migrant workers’ labor and human rights by granting employers additional visas or privileges without expanding protections for workers. On June 22, the Trump Administration announced a block on the entry of workers on H-2B visas with an exemption for workers who provide services essential to the food supply chain. In May, the Department of Homeland Security published a rule to ease requirements for H-2B employers to hire workers in food processing industries.
“Workers on H-2B visas often live in substandard employer housing, face threats of deportation, and lack the freedom to move. When they speak out, they often face retaliation with little support to fight back — H-2B workers generally cannot access federally funded legal services. The pandemic highlights how these conditions can be lethal for the thousands of migrant workers who work under temporary employment-based visas,” stated Ben Botts, Legal Director at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.
Rachel Berlin Benjamin, Partner at Buckley Beal commented: “This case is about holding Precision 2000 and its related company and owners responsible for the discriminatory and retaliatory treatment of our clients and possibly countless others on account of their race and national origin. There is no room for racism in the workplace. Migrants play a critical role in our nation’s economy and culture. We must ensure that they are protected from unlawful treatment in the workplace.”
In April, CDM published a letter, signed by over thirty organizations, directed at several U.S. agencies, including the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Services, to enact protections for H-2B workers who are at risk of acquiring and transmitting COVID-19. The recommendations included guidance for safe housing. The letter can be found here: https://cdmigrante.org/letter-to-federal-agencies-covid-19/
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 migrant workers to defend and protect their rights as they move between their home communities and their workplaces in the United States. www.cdmigrante.org
About Buckley Beal, LLP
Buckley Beal is one of Atlanta’s leading employment litigation firms. With an outstanding reputation for winning cases at trial and on appeal, the firm specializes in handling cases on behalf of employees involving workplace discrimination, retaliation, and harassment, unpaid overtime, and other civil rights matters. For more information about Buckley Beal, visit www.buckleybeal.com.