2 agricultural migrant workers from Guatemala have sued their current employer Oceana County farm labor contracting company. The workers have accused the company of taking their passports, mandating that they add one of the company owners to their bank account as a condition of employment and underpay them on a weekly basis. The workers said they do 100-hour weeks, but are only paid for 60, which breaches forced labor and minimum wage laws.
The lawsuit, which was filed last year in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, also accuses one of the owners of Purpose Point Harvesting, Emilto Moreno Gomez of threatening to ban them from the Federal Government’s agricultural program if they did not cough up thousands of dollars in recruitment fees.
Gomez reportedly told the workers that he is friends with a U.S. Department of Labor official who “would tell him if anyone complained about him” the lawsuit says, and that he would put a “stain” on their passports.
The company’s owners, Gomez and Lucille Jean Moreno have denied all allegations again and given their own version of events.
The countersuit against the plaintiffs Luis Gomez-Echeverria and Hervil Gomez-Echeverria, who are Gomez’s cousins, stated that this lawsuit is simply an elaborate plot to gain them US citizenship.
The plaintiffs have not commented on the countersuit, however, Ben O’Hearn, who is the litigation director of Migrant Legal Aid, which is representing the workers, said, the notion that someone would raise this kind of class action lawsuit simply to improve their immigration status is “pretty ridiculous.”
“One, they’d have to convince us that this was a meritorious case,” he said. “Obviously we do our own investigation. We’re not going to bring a case without looking into it.”
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: LUKE MOCHERMAN
PHOTO CREDIT: HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
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