Category: Jamaican Worker Justice

Guestworker Whistleblowers Seek Protection in Miami

As abusive employer ups threats of retaliation, Jamaican guestworkers
seek aid from U.S. Reps, federal authorities, organized labor

WHAT:  Press conference by guestworkers who exposed severe labor abuse on Florida’s Emerald Coast

WHO:  Jamaican H-2B guestworker members of the National Guestworker Alliance; allies from Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), UNITE HERE, SEIU 32BJ

WHERE: UNITE HERE, 1525 NW 167 St., Suite 450, Miami, FL 33169

WHEN: 5 PM Wednesday, August 21, 2013

 

MIAMI, FL, August 21—Facing fresh threats of retaliation from the Emerald Coast employer who subjected them to severe labor abuse, immigrant guestworkers will hit Miami on Wednesday, asking politicians, immigration authorities, and organized labor for protection.

As Tallahassee media reported (NPR, ABC TV), H-2B guestworkers from Jamaica came forward on Monday to expose the horrific conditions they endured while a labor contractor called Mister Clean leased them out to luxury condo managers on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

When the workers demanded their rights earlier this summer—complaining of brutal housing conditions and zero dollar checks—the employer responded with written threats he would evict them and have them deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The workers filed an official complaint with the Department of Labor on Monday and met with Rep. Steve Southerland. They exposed how under the current broken immigration system, employers use threats of deportation to block all immigrant workers—even those on guestworker visas—from exposing illegal practices.

In response, the workers’ employer intensified threats on Tuesday to cancel the workers’ visas and blacklist them.

On Wednesday, workers will seek support from Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, as well as civil and labor rights leaders from the Florida Immigration Coalition, SEIU 32, and UNITE HERE. The will also ask the Miami field office of ICE to pledge not to collaborate with the employer in deporting them.

The abuse and threats the workers faced is a clear demonstration of the need for immigration reform with strong worker protections. This exposé comes on the heels of a Friday-night announcement by the Republican National Committee rejecting comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and favoring further criminalization of immigrants instead.

 

On Aug. 19, 2013, Rahman Johnson of ABC/Bounce TV in Tallahassee, FL, interviewed NGA lead organizer Jacob Horwitz and Jamaican H-2B worker Shellion Harris about severe worker abuse and threats of deportation on FL’s Emerald Coast.

Guestworkers to U.S. Reps in FL: Pass Immigration Reform to End the Abuse We Faced

Jamaican guestworkers defy threats of deportation to expose abuse in backyard of U.S. Reps who oppose immigration reform

TALLAHASSEE, FL, Aug. 19, 2013—On Monday, immigrant guestworkers on H-2B visas defied threats of deportation to expose horrific conditions they endured while they were leased out as housecleaners to luxury condo managers on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

Workers showed copies of zero-dollar checks they received when exorbitant housing deductions and inadequate hours brought their take-home pay so low that they were told they owed the employer money at the end of a pay period.

When the workers stood up to demand their pay, the employer made verbal and written threats that he would evict them and have them deported by immigration police.

“He held us hostage. We were mistreated. We were robbed,” said Judith Heslop, one of 150 guestworkers on H-2B visas from Jamaica who were recruited to work for a contractor called Mister Clean Laundry and Cleaning Services. “Now I’m here standing up for our rights and justice. No other worker should go through what we did.”

Heslop and her fellow workers joined the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) to take action. On Monday, they filed an official complaint with the Department of Labor, and also met with the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (FL-2), who represents one of the districts where they worked. The workers asked Rep. Southerland to support a thorough investigation into the workplace violations, threats, and retaliation they faced.

They also called on Southerland, together with Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-1), to reject the Republican National Committee’s newly hardened stance against comprehensive immigration reform, and to support reform with strong worker protections to prevent future abuse.

“While these workers are defying threats of deportation to expose the abuse they faced, the Republican Party is pushing for further criminalization of immigrants like them,” said Saket Soni, Executive Director of the NGA. “This is how broken our immigration system is: even guestworkers on federal work visas can be trapped in abuse by threats of deportation. If Republican House members truly believe in the rule of law, they need to pass comprehensive immigration reform with strong worker protections.”

Florida AFL-CIO Legislative and Political Director Rich Templin said: “When immigrant workers like these come forward to expose abuse, they’re not just standing up for themselves—they’re standing up for the millions of U.S. workers alongside them. Immigrant workers need real reform, a path to citizenship, and strong worker protections for the sake of every worker in the U.S.”

 

Photos

 

Background

In early 2013, over 150 guestworkers, mostly women, were recruited in Jamaica to serve as housecleaners for luxury condos on Florida’s Emerald Gulf Coast.

The workers paid $2,000 to $2,500 apiece in recruitment fees and costs to participate in the H-2B guestworker visa program with the hopes of providing for their children and families back in Jamaica. They were promised they would earn that money back within a few weeks of full-time work, and would be provided decent living conditions.

Instead, a labor contractor called Mister Clean Laundry and Cleaning Services trapped them in a nightmare of economic desperation and threats of deportation. Mister Clean leased them out to luxury beach condos managed by Silver Shells Beach Resort and Spa in Destin, FL; The Resort Collection of Panama City; Five Star Beach Properties, LLC; and Oaseas Resorts LLC.

  • Workers took on as much as $2,500 in debt to come to the United States, and after nearly five months cleaning condos, still owe money to creditors back home.
  • Workers were packed up to 15 people to a two-bedroom company apartment, sleeping on the floor while paying up to $375 a month each in rent.
  • Workers faced restricted hours and mandatory deductions—including a $70 “uniform fee” for a t-shirt—that at times brought their paychecks to below $0. Workers were told they owed money on payday to cover inflated cost of rent in company housing.
  • While many workers faced insufficient hours, others were overworked to the point of collapse, facing repeated 14-hour shifts with no overtime pay.
  • Workers were repeatedly paid with bad checks, and would have to wait for replacement checks without money to buy food or send home to their children.

The workers are on strike from their employer, and are demanding:

  1. That their employers pay back the money the workers are owed, including the unlawful recruitment fees, overpriced housing deductions, and unpaid hours and overtime.
  2. That Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pledge not to retaliate against the workers, rejecting the employers’ attempt to use threats of deportation as a weapon to cover up abuse and silence whistleblowers.
  3. That the politicians in whose backyard the abuse took place shift to vocal support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform to prevent future abuse. 

 

On August 19, 2013, immigrant guestworkers on H-2B visas defied threats of deportation to expose horrific conditions they endured while they were leased out as housecleaners to luxury condo managers on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

The workers’ employer, a contractor on Florida’s Emerald Coast called Mister Clean Laundry and Cleaning Services, charged the workers thousands of dollars in recruitment fees that plunged their families into debt. He forced them into overcrowded company housing and sub-minimum-wage jobs, then leased them to luxury beach condo managers. When the workers stood up to demand their pay, the employer issued written threats that he would evict them and have them deported by immigration police.

Read the workers’ official complaint to the Department of Labor, filed Aug. 19, 2013 (PDF).

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Florida Guestworkers Expose Severe Labor Abuse

Jamaican guestworkers defy threats of deportation to expose abuse
in backyard of U.S. Reps who oppose immigration reform

WHAT:  Press conference by guestworkers exposing severe labor abuse on Florida’s Emerald Coast

WHO:  Jamaican H-2B guestworker members of the National Guestworker Alliance; allies from labor, clergy, and civil rights communities

WHERE: Florida Press Center, 336 E. College Ave, Tallahassee, FL 32301

WHEN: 11 AM Monday, August 19, 2013

 

TALLAHASSEE, FL—On August 19, at 11 a.m., immigrant guestworkers on H-2B visas will defy threats of deportation to expose horrific conditions they endured while they were leased out as housecleaners to luxury condo managers on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

The workers will expose how under the current guestworker system, employers use immigration enforcement to block workers from exposing illegal practices. The workers will call on the U.S. Representatives in the districts where they worked—Reps. Jeff Miller (FL-1) and Steve Southerland (FL-2)—to support a thorough investigation into workplace violations and the threats and retaliation the workers faced. They will also call for a meeting with the Representatives to share their firsthand experience with the guestworker program and the reforms that are needed as part of immigration reform. The workers will then march with their supporters to the Department of Labor to submit an official complaint against their employer.

The workers’ employer, a contractor on Florida’s Emerald Coast, charged the workers thousands of dollars in recruitment fees that plunged their families into debt. He forced them into overcrowded company housing and sub-minimum-wage jobs, then leased them to luxury beach condo managers. When the workers stood up to demand their pay, the employer issued written threats that he would evict them and have them deported by immigration police.

The abuse and threats the workers faced is a clear demonstration of the need for immigration reform with strong worker protections. This exposé comes on the heels of a Friday-night announcement by the Republican National Committee rejecting comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and favoring further criminalization of immigrants instead.

The workers will call on Reps. Miller and Southerland to reject this stance and support immigration reform that will prevent future abuse of immigrant workers in their districts and across the United States.

 


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