Government Cracks Down On Company Using Foreign Workers
Updated: Jun 07, 2011 7:20 PM
By Ben Hall
The federal government has banned a local landscaping company from applying for the right to use foreign workers.
Vanderbilt Landscaping receives millions of dollars in state contracts, but investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor found the company did not properly recruit U.S. workers.
Vanderbilt Landscaping, which has an office in Smyrna, has claimed for years that it could not find enough Americans willing to work for more than $12 an hour.
So the company received permission from the federal government to use foreign workers under the H2-B guest worker program. But the Department of Labor found the company made it harder for Americans to apply for work by requiring that they take drug tests.
The company did not require foreign workers to take drug tests.
It also found that Vanderbilt placed foreign workers outside the area of intended employment listed on its application.
The company has been involved in controversy ever since last year when a foreign worker claimed he was forced to work at gunpoint and was not paid for overtime.
Last summer, Hillario Jimenez claimed he escaped from employers at Vanderbilt Landscaping, and with cameras surrounding him, demanded that owners return his passport.
The company’s owners were clearly caught off guard, and the next day told NewsChannel 5 that they treated all their workers fairly.
“All the allegations that were brought up, it was just crazy,” Co-owner Joeffry Vanderbilt said.
But since then, the company has agreed to pay more than $18,000 in back wages to 42 workers.
And in a final judgment signed last week, Vanderbilt Landscaping admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed not to ask the U.S. Department of Labor for permission to use foreign workers for the next three years.
Vanderbilt Landscaping, which is not affiliated with the University, has won lucrative state contracts to cut grass and pick up trash along the interstates.
Through an interpreter, Hillario Jimenez told NewsChannel 5 Investigates how he left a small town in Mexico to work for Vanderbilt Landscaping.
He came to the United States under the U.S. Department of Labor’s H2-B program, which grants foreign workers temporary visas to work for companies that cannot find enough locals to keep their business operating.
“I personally want to give an education to my children,” Jimenez said.
He said he worked long hours and was housed in poor conditions, and he claimed Vanderbilt Landscaping preferred foreign workers.
“An American worker that knows their rights, seeing these conditions, they’ll protest and they won’t do the work. But we don’t,” Jimenez said.
Federal investigators claimed Vanderbilt Landscaping did not pay foreign workers for visa and transportation costs, which reduced their pay below the minimum wage.
Several Mexican workers are suing Vanderbilt Landscaping. The company fought back by filing a countersuit against the workers.
Vanderbilt Landscaping didn’t talk with us for this story.
In court papers they admit no wrong doing, but agree to the penalties.
It’s very rare for the government to ban companies from using foreign workers.
Original story appeared at http://www.newschannel5.com/story/14861388/government-cracks-down-on-company-using-foreign-workers