Jamaican Guestworkers Protest Alleged Abuse from Panhandle Employer
September 4, 2013
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.