Category: News

Officials at N.C. company International Labor Management are charged with visa fraud

The Washington Post – Feb. 20, 2014

By Ken Otterbourg

VASS, N.C. — In 2008, Stanley Porter started a small company called Winterscapes LLC with a fake purpose: bringing in 150 foreign workers under the H-2B visa program to be snow makers in the mountains of North Carolina.

But some of the workers didn’t even know what a snow maker was. Once they arrived, most moved to landscaping companies that were clients of Porter’s and had not gone through the proper application process for hiring foreign workers.

Porter pleaded guilty to visa fraud and money laundering last year. But the case has now ensnared a much larger firm, In­ternational Labor Management , which for years has been a major player in the business of connecting U.S. employers with foreign workers for seasonal jobs. And federal officials say the company has been gaming the visa system for years, helping businesses skirt the law.

In a 41-count indictment filed late last month in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, N.C., federal officials accused International Labor’s founder, Craig Eury Jr., and his daughter, Sarah Farrell, of falsifying applications to obtain more worker visas than were needed and then dispensing them to companies that had not qualified to use the foreign employees.

Such temporary workers are in some ways a halfway point between the agricultural workers and the skilled tech workers who grab much of the attention in the battle over immigration reform, but they have become a critical part of many industries, including landscaping, state fairs, forest management and construction.

The government is seeking to seize from Eury at least $1.1 million that it says is tied to the alleged illegal activities. He faces a single count in the indictment and could be sent to prison for 10 years if convicted. The remaining 40 counts are against Farrell, whom the indictment accuses of coordinating most of the visa applications. Each count against her carries at least a 10-year prison sentence. Ripley Rand, the U.S. attorney for North Carolina’s Middle District, declined to comment on the indictment, citing a desire not to jeopardize court proceedings.

Defense attorney Kearns Davis said his clients deny the government’s allegations. Davis said in a statement that International Labor “has assisted hundreds of businesses across the country in navigating the complex guest-worker bureaucracy and paperwork process. In an industry that is closely scrutinized and politicized, they do the right thing for employers and guest workers while carefully following the law.”

Number inflation alleged

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers several programs for guest workers. The H-2A program is for agricultural workers. The H-2B program is for seasonal nonagricultural labor and is capped at 66,000 workers. Unlike H-2A workers, employees in the H-2B program are not provided housing. About two-thirds of H-2B workers come from Mexico.

The indictment says International Labor inflated the number of H-2B visas that its clients needed and then diverted the extra workers to employers who did not have government clearance. According to the indictment, there were more than 700 visa applications in the suspect pool, and the conspiracy ran from 2006 through February 2013.

In Porter’s case, the indictment says, Farrell worked with him on the fraudulent visa applications for the snow-making workers and later for janitorial workers who were also being diverted to landscaping positions.

After pleading guilty, Porter was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $100,000. He also pleaded guilty to a count of money laundering, which the government said happened when he wrote a check for $14,000 to International Labor. He is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

In the H-2B program, employers need to demonstrate that U.S. citizens do not want the jobs for which they are seeking foreign workers. They often fulfill that obligation by working with state employment offices, running help-wanted ads in newspapers and seeing who responds. The indictment says that International Labor coached employers on how to interview U.S. citizens for these positions in such a way that their hiring was suppressed.

International Labor was started in 1994. At the time, Eury was already well known in North Carolina for his work with the North Carolina Growers Association, which bills itself as the country’s largest procurer of foreign agricultural workers. The growers group is not part of this case, but the businesses are next to each other on the outskirts of the small town of Vass, which sits near the back of the sprawling Fort Bragg military installation in the state’s Sandhills region.

Despite the indictment against Eury and Farrell, International Labor is still operating. A woman who answered the door at the firm declined to answer questions.

Abuse is called common

Criminal prosecutions for H-2B violations are rare, said Jennifer Rosenbaum, the legal director for the National Guestworker Alliance, based in New Orleans. But she said that abuse of the program is common, with employers asking for more workers than they need and requesting the workers for periods far past when there is no longer any work for them to do. Both actions inflate the size of the labor pool and reduce workers’ ability to advocate for better pay and working conditions, she said.

Being moved to different employers is common as well, Rosenbaum said. This underscores the imbalance in the ­employee-employer relationship, she said, as guest workers cannot go in search of jobs on their own. Employees in the H-2B program, unlike H-2A workers, are not provided housing, reducing an employer’s costs and the incentive to provide sufficient hours for all workers, Rosenbaum said.

“This case takes a comprehensive look at how companies are gaming the system to disadvantage U.S. and foreign workers as well as companies that play by the rules,” she said.

Craig Regelbrugge, the senior vice president for industry advocacy and research at AmericanHort, the trade group for the horticultural and landscape industry, said the vast majority of companies that use foreign workers or act as procurement agents follow the rules strictly. “But there are a few bad apples, and the bad apples hurt everybody,” he said.

The cap has not been reached since the recession that began in 2008, according to statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Services. Regelbrugge said that is because hiring was down in many of the businesses that employ seasonal workers and also because higher domestic unemployment pushed many Americans to take seasonal jobs that they might have refused in better times. This year, he said, with the economy improving, the cap is again coming into play.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/officials-at-nc-company-are-indicted-for-falsifying-visas-in-guest-worker-program/2014/02/20/f30b1a1a-9985-11e3-b931-0204122c514b_story.html

On February 18, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor vindicated the J-1 student guestworker members of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) who went on strike from McDonald’s restaurants in Central Pennsylvania in March 2013. The USDOL cited the McDonald’s franchisee for minimum wage violations against 291 fast food workers, awarding them $205,977 in back wages and liquidated damages.

Below is a statement by NGA Executive Director Saket Soni:

Credit: Christine Baker | pennlive.com

Today, some of the most vulnerable workers in America—immigrant guestworkers—won a major victory not only for themselves, but for the U.S. workers alongside them. Brave student guestworkers from Argentina, Malaysia, and other countries defied threats of retaliation and went on strike to end the severe exploitation they faced at McDonald’s stores last year, including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid overtime, and overpriced company housing. These NGA members won $205,977 in back wages and damages not only for the 178 guestworkers who worked at these McDonald’s stores, but for 113 U.S. fast food workers alongside them, including formerly incarcerated people and political refugees.

This victory comes as tens of thousands of McDonald’s workers around the U.S. are demanding a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. McDonald’s must meet those demands.

But this victory also shows that raising wages is not enough. As long as employers like McDonald’s can use threats of retaliation and deportation to exploit immigrant workers, the wages and conditions of the U.S. workers alongside them will never be secure. But by protecting the right to organize for the most vulnerable workers, we help raise the floor for every worker in the U.S.

President Obama stressed in his State of the Union that he’s ready to take executive action to combat income inequality. That action needs to include protections for immigrant workers who come forward to expose abuse from retaliatory deportation.

And now that the DOL has vindicated these workers, McDonald’s corporate can’t hide behind its franchisee and wash its hands of the abuse. McDonald’s must:

  1. Conduct an audit of its franchisees and reveal where else guestworkers are working so that NGA can ensure they are free from abuse;
  2. Publicly commit that when any McDonald’s franchisee commits wage theft or other labor law violations, McDonald’s corporate will take responsibility by making the workers whole and punishing the franchisee; and
  3. Meet the nationwide demand for a $15 an hour wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, 323-594-2347

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently upheld the right of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to set prevailing wages in the H-2B guestworker program.

Below is a statement by Jennifer J. Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA):

workers“The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirms the critical role of the Department of Labor, and shows that DOL was right all along: raising the prevailing wages for employers in the H-2B program is necessary to protect job quality for all workers—both guestworkers and the U.S. workers alongside them. The NGA has fought continuously to make sure that prevailing wages for H-2B employers are fair to all workers, and that employers don’t further disadvantage U.S. workers by taking unlawful deductions or kick-backs.”

“The Obama Administration’s Department of Labor, under previous Secretary Hilda Solis and now under Secretary Tom Perez, has shown balanced leadership by proposing critical regulations that level the playing field for the more than 24 million workers in key H-2B sectors. Both the wage rule and the comprehensive rule are balanced compromises, and are critical to protect guestworkers and the U.S. workers who work alongside them. Now Congress needs to stop blocking implementation of the DOL’s comprehensive H-2B regulations, which prohibit employer retaliation against workers who expose exploitation by H-2B employers and prohibit temporary staffing agencies from using the program to undercut U.S. workers.”

NGA co-founder and leader Daniel Castellanos said:

“The court has caught up with what thousands of guestworkers have been saying since Hurricane Katrina: to stop exploitation in guestworker programs, we need higher prevailing wages, and we need protections from employer retaliation to make sure that the rules of the program are enforced.”

The Nation

Soon we’ll all be stuck with the unjust working conditions that immigrants face: contingent jobs, with lousy pay and few or no benefits.

By Saket Soni

When members of Congress come back from recess, they could put our nation’s 11.7 million undocumented immigrant workers on a path to citizenship. But if they refuse to, as they did in 2013, they’ll be pushing US workers further down the path to becoming like low-wage immigrant workers. After all, our economy is already headed in exactly that direction.

Move over, farmers, factory workers and technology “creatives”—the emblematic American workers are now low-wage immigrant day laborers and guest workers. More and more, Americans are trapped in the uncertainty and injustice that immigrant workers know all too well, whether they’re here on temporary work visas cleaning luxury condos or undocumented and scrambling for daily construction jobs. Increasingly, from an economic standpoint, office parks and store aisles in America are coming to resemble the street corners where day laborers gather and the labor camps where guest workers are trapped. We can either continue to pretend that low-wage immigrant workers are on the fringes of our economy—that their problems are theirs alone—or we can face the fact that their conditions are what we’re all moving toward, and what millions of US-born workers already face.

Immigrant workers have long experienced vulnerability and instability, and have long been treated as disposable by their employers. Today, roughly one-third of American jobs are part-time, contract or otherwise “contingent.” And the number of contingent workers in the United States is expected to grow by more than one-third over the next four years. That means more and more families are without the benefits of full-time work, such as health insurance, pensions or 401(k)s. And more of us are without the employment certainty that leads to economic stability at home—and to the consumer spending that drives the economy.

In addition, while we are working longer and harder, wages are stagnant. Between 2000 and 2011, the US economy grew by more than 18 percent, while the median income for working families declined by 12.4 percent. Once upon a time, workers shared the economic prosperity of their employers: until 1975, wages accounted for more than 50 percent of America’s GDP. But by 2013, wages had fallen to a record low of just 43.5 percent of GDP. Overall compensation, which factors in healthcare and other benefits, has also hit bottom. Immigrants know where this downward spiral leads—just ask the Jamaican guest workers who cleaned luxury beach condos in Florida last summer and came away with paychecks for zero dollars and zero cents.

And like countless immigrant workers, more and more American workers are trapped in supply and subcontracting chains for big and powerful employers. From the late 1970s until the 2008 recession, small businesses were the prime generator of jobs in America, creating roughly 60 percent of all employment. That percentage has been swiftly declining ever since. The percentage of business loans going to small start-ups has also declined. And yet small businesses generally pay higher wages than large corporations, and a significantly higher percentage of every dollar spent at a small business stays in the community and further boosts the local economy, as opposed to dollars fleeing to often distant corporate headquarters. But when large employers dominate an industry or town, they have unchecked power to drive down wages and working conditions—or, in some cases, to try to avoid paying any wages at all. In 2012, Walmart agreed to pay $4.83 million in overdue back wages to more than 4,500 workers. And conditions don’t get much worse than those of guest workers in the Walmart supply chain who exposed captive labor at a company called CJ’s Seafood that same year, where a supervisor threatened to beat workers with a shovel to make them work faster.

The United States, which presents itself as a global beacon of opportunity and prosperity, is quickly becoming a low-wage nation. America’s immigrant workers are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine—and the coal mine extends from construction sites to supermarkets to Silicon Valley.

We as a nation will be ill equipped to address this profound shift as long as we cling to the divisive vision of an “us and them” economy. Some Americans resist immigration reform because they sense the transformation in the nature of work in our country and make immigrants the target of their justified anxiety. In fact, all US workers—immigrants and US-born, low-wage and higher-wage, temporary and full-time—are increasingly in the same boat. The sooner we realize that we all face the predicament of immigrant workers, the sooner we can work together to solve structural inequality in our economy instead of fighting over the crumbs.

 

Jamaican Guestworkers Protest Alleged Abuse from Panhandle Employer
WMBB

Addie Hampton
September 4, 2013

WMBB News 13 – The Panhandle’s News Leader

Jamaican Guest workers here on a visa are alleging abuse from their cleaning company employers; at times, paying them nothing despite two weeks of hard labor.

News 13 attended a protest outside Edgewater Beach Resort where the National Guestworker Alliance joined in the fight for immigration reform.

The workers were crying out for employer accountability from the subcontractor, Mr. Clean Cleaning Service of Destin. and the resort companies who contracted them.

They say they were promised the American Dream, but that quickly escalated into a nightmare.

When Denise Gardener signed on to clean luxury condos in America, she believed she’d make enough money to support her family in Jamaica.

“We were promised in Jamaica that we would get overtime, make a lot of money, 40 hours per week and when we came here it was different. Nothing like that,” said Gardener.

Instead, she said she was caught in a web of debt that began with an expensive work visa to get here, cuts in hours and no discernable pay check despite hard work.

“I pay over two thousand US (dollars) to come here and sometimes when I got my paycheck, sometimes it would be two hundred dollars for a fortnight,” she said.

Hired by subcontractor Ray Villanova and Destin Cleaning Company, Mr. Clean, she said she and others were put in crowded company housing at 300 dollars a month, often leaving them with a zero on their pay stub.

“Zero dollars…I was wondering what this is, what is this for. I don’t know, but I do know this man is cruel. He’s cruel to us,” cried Gardener.

News 13 contacted Villanova via telephone on Wednesday for his side, but he could not be reached.

Protestors allege this is human trafficking; a serious issue, but is this the case?

News 13 contacted Homeland Security’s resident agent in charge who pointed us to the definition of IN-voluntary servitude. Meaning, if they can leave the job or the country, it’s not trafficking.

It doesn’t make it right, said officials with the National Guestworker Alliance. They’ve filled federal complaints against a company they said were making threats.

“Mr. Clean stapled a letter onto their paycheck saying that the Sheriff and Local Ice agents would show up at their door. Evict them from the company housing and send them back to Jamaica where they would be in debt with no hope of getting out of it,” said Jacob Horowitz of the NGA.

News 13 mentioned Edgewater Beach Resort as the location of the protest.

A press release to News 13 indicated they new nothing of the alleged abuse and if they turned out to be true, they will sever ties with Mr. Clean and any future business opportunities.


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