Category: Signal

EEOC v. Signal International, LLC, 11-cv-00179, U.S. Dist. Ct., S.D. Miss. (filed April 2011)

(EEOC April 20 2011 complaint)

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Signal International, LLC, charging that the Gulf of Mexico marine services company violated federal law by subjecting a class of approximately 500 Indian employees to human labor trafficking and a hostile work environment.   The affected workers are H-2B guestworkers trafficked to work as welders and pipefitters in the marine fabrication industry.

The EEOC lawsuit charges that Signal subjected the Indian employees as a class to abuse based on national origin (Indian) and/or race (Asian). The agency charges Signal with disparate, discriminatory treatment concerning the workers’ terms and conditions of employment, as well as segregating them. Finally, the EEOC lawsuit alleges Signal retaliated against workers who opposed Signal’s unlawful conduct.

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New York Times editorial

May 1, 2011

Slavery and human trafficking are alive and well in the United States, according to lawsuits filed by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of farm laborers in Hawaii and Washington State and shipyard workers on the Gulf Coast.

The suits allege that labor recruiters and employers lured, trapped and abused foreign workers hired through federal guest-worker programs. The government charges that more than 500 Indian men hired by Signal International of Alabama for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina were confined in squalid camps, illegally charged for lodging and food, and subject to discrimination and abuse. When they complained, the suit says, Signal agents tried to intimidate workers’ families in India. Two lawsuits filed in Hawaii and Washington against other employers make similar charges about 200 men brought from Thailand.

The United States urgently needs to strengthen protections for guest workers who are lied to by recruiters and tied to employers with too much power to exploit them. Today’s shackles are the threats of deportation and financial ruin. They might as well be iron.

A recent agreement by the federal Labor and Homeland Security Departments to work together on immigration and labor enforcement at work sites is encouraging, though there are serious concerns about Homeland Security’s past behavior. Sworn testimony in a separate civil lawsuit against Signal International charged that rather than protecting the Indian workers, immigration officials coached the company on how to silence and deport them.

Workers in the new lawsuits may win some money and be eligible for special visas for trafficking victims. But they are only a handful of workers — both documented and undocumented — stranded in a system that accepts their labor but fails to prevent their exploitation.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/02/opinion/02mon3.html

Statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director, National Guestworker Alliance. Many of the workers trafficked by Signal International are members of the National Guestworker Alliance, a project of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.

April 20, 2011—Today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Signal International, LLC, a major Mississippi marine fabrication company, for its discrimination, segregation, and subjugation of hundreds of Indian guestworkers after Hurricane Katrina. The EEOC’s action is a vindication of a long fight for justice that started in labor camps in 2007. We applaud the EEOC for its action, the workers for carrying on an extraordinary campaign, and hundreds of civil rights and labor leaders who stood with the workers while they were under attack.

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New York Times editorial – Feb. 4, 2010

A federal agency appears to have collaborated in an effort to silence foreign workers who claimed they were lured here under false pretenses and abused by the company they worked for. The role of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – reported in The Times by Julia Preston – is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department.

This is the latest twist in a sad tale of human trafficking and another reason why Congress, as part of its immigration reform efforts, must solve a problem that dates back to the Mexican bracero program: how to accept guest workers in this country while preventing their exploitation.

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Immigration authorities worked closely with a marine oil-rig company in Mississippi to discourage protests by temporary guest workers from India over their job conditions, including advising managers to send some workers back to India, according to new testimony in a federal lawsuit against the company, Signal International.

The cooperation between the company and federal immigration agents is recounted in sworn depositions by Signal managers who were involved when tensions in its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., erupted into a public clash in March 2007.

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