Category: Press Statements

Guestworkers March on Beach Resort Where They Exposed Labor Abuse

Jamaican guestworkers in FL demand Edgewater Beach Resort make them whole

WHAT:  Press conference by guestworkers who exposed severe labor abuse in Panama City and Destin, FL
WHO:  Jamaican H-2B guestworker members of the National Guestworker Alliance; civil rights, labor, and community leaders
WHEN: 12 PM Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013
WHERE: Edgewater Beach Resort, 11212 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, FL 32407
CONTACT:  Stephen Boykewich, 323-594-2347, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org

PANAMA CITY, FL—On Wednesday, Sep. 4, Jamaican guestworkers who exposed severe labor abuse and faced threats of deportation for speaking out will march on Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City, one of the properties where they faced abuse. Together with civil rights, labor, and community allies, they will demand that Edgewater’s management and other property managers who profited from the abuse make the workers whole by paying them all the money they are owed.

Workers and allies will also call on U.S. Rep Steve Sutherland, in whose district the abuse took place, to meet with the workers, support their struggle, and return the donation he received from Edgewater and other property managers that profited from worker abuse.

As the New York Times wrote on Monday, guestworkers from Jamaica came forward in late August to expose the horrific conditions they endured while leased out to luxury condo managers on the Florida Panhandle. As the workers’ Department of Labor complaint details, workers faced brutal housing conditions, zero dollar checks, and written threats that they would be deported by immigration police in retaliation for speaking out against the abuse.

The Jamaican guestworkers 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 the politicians who received political contributions from the property managers put that money into a fund to make the workers whole, and support immigration reform with strong worker protections. The first to do so should be U.S. Reps. Steve Southerland and Jeff Miller, in whose backyard the abuse took place.

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

Companies that Profited from Immigrant Abuse Donated to Anti-Immigrant Republicans

FL guestworkers who exposed abuse demand that U.S. Reps give up dirty money

MIAMI, FL, August 28, 2013—Luxury condo managers in Florida that profited from the abuse of immigrant guestworkers donated $174,000 to prominent politicians, including some of the very Republicans blocking immigration reform, the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) revealed Wednesday. The workers are petitioning those politicians to reject the dirty money and stand against the abuse of immigrant workers—especially U.S. Representatives Jeff Miller (FL-1) and Steve Southerland (FL-2), in whose districts the abuse took place.

As Florida media reported (NPR, ABC TV), H-2B guestworkers from Jamaica came forward on Aug. 19 to expose the horrific conditions they endured while leased out to luxury condo managers on the Florida Panhandle. As the workers’ Department of Labor complaint details, workers faced brutal housing conditions, zero dollar checks, and written threats that they would be deported by immigration police in retaliation for speaking out against the abuse.

The workers cleaned condos for Silver Shells Beach Resort and Spa in Destin, FL; The Resort Collection of Panama City; Five Star Beach Properties, LLC; and Oaseas Resorts LLC, whose owners and executives have donated $174,000 to politicians in and around Florida [since 1990]. These donations went to Republicans over Democrats by a 25:1 margin, and recipients include some of the Republicans trying hardest to block comprehensive immigration reform.

Key facts on the donations:

  • The companies and their executives have given about $174,000 to state and federal candidates and their PACs since 1990, including $19,550 in the 2012 cycle.
  • The top recipient is the Republican Party of Florida with $18,241 in donations.  Another $6,000 went to the Republican Party of Florida Federal Campaign Account.
  • Other recipients include Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL), Sen. Mark Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
  • The donors gave $147,207 to Republicans, versus $5,850 to Democrats (25:1).

“The same Republicans trying to block immigration reform and further criminalize immigrant workers have been taking donations from companies that profit from the abuse of immigrant workers,” said Saket Soni, NGA Executive Director. “There is no clearer sign of how urgently we need immigration reform with strong worker protections.”

“These Republicans claim to believe in the rule of law. If that’s true, they need to start by rejecting these donations, putting them in a fund to make the workers whole, and publicly denouncing the illegal abuse of immigrant workers in their own backyard,” Soni said.

The Jamaican guestworkers have launched a petition 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 the politicians who received political contributions from the property managers put that money into a fund to make the workers whole, and support immigration reform with strong worker protections. The first to do so should be Reps. Jeff Miller and Steve Southerland, in whose backyard the abuse took place.

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

One week into their campaign, Jamaican guestworkers fighting against labor abuse they exposed in Florida won a breakthrough pledge from federal immigration authorities not to collude with their employer in deporting them.

In an unprecedented written communication, the Miami field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) invoked the authority of two key documents that are supposed to govern how ICE operates internally: the December 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor, and the June 2011 Prosecutorial Discretion Memo that specifically limits enforcement against certain victims, witnesses, and plaintiffs.

This breakthrough comes after years of community pressure on ICE not to carry through on employer threats of retaliatory deportation. In 2008, workers from India exposed how ICE was colluding with their employer to prevent them from expose labor trafficking. Since then, workers have fought for this protection from Justice@Hershey’s in 2010, to Breaking Chains at Walmart in 2012, to Jamaican Workers for Change today.

With this protection in hand, the Jamaican workers’ civil and labor rights will be secure as they fight to be made whole by their employers, and to help win immigration reform with strong worker protections. The pledge they won from ICE in Miami is also a precedent for other groups of workers to win similar pledges all around the country during civil and labor rights disputes. As the 11 million fight for comprehensive immigration reform, they’re also fighting for strong worker protections, and this pledge is one way to win them.

This victory also vindicates our fight for the POWER Act, a bill that protects immigrant whistleblowers who come forward against abuse—while also protecting the U.S. workers alongside them. We’re won inclusion of the POWER Act in the Senate immigration bill. Now we need to ensure it passes the House as well.

We look forward to working with you as the Jamaican workers fight on to win justice for themselves, and dignity for all the 11 million.

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

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

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.

 

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.”

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

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. 

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


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