Posts Tagged ‘h2b’

International Labor Management charged with H2B visa fraud – WaPo – 2-22-14

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

Jamaican Guestworkers Protest Alleged Abuse from Panhandle Employer – WMBB – 9/4/13

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.

PHOTOS: Guest workers protest job conditions – The News Herald – 9/4/2013

Guest workers protest job conditions
The News Herald

Randal Yakey
September 4, 2013


(Click the image for a full gallery of photos from the event)

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Guest workers from Jamaica said they were harassed, shortchanged and threatened with deportation if they failed to show up for work, where they were contract employees of Mister Clean Laundry and Cleaning Service.

National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) lead organizer Jacob Horwitz said the workers were recruited by Reynaldo Villanueva, owner and operator of Destin-based Mister Clean Cleaning Services.

Horwitz said Villanueva recruited the workers from Jamaica and threatened them with deportation if they did not do what they were told without complaint.

“These are workers who were charged and spent over $2,000 in recruitment fees and costs for H-2B visas and were put up in company housing and slept on the floor,” Horwitz said.

H-2B is a guest worker visa.

“Some were getting paychecks as small as zero dollars because of deductions from their paychecks,” Horwitz said. “When the workers protested, the answer was a threat stapled to their paychecks.”

They said the most recent flyer stapled to their paychecks said that any worker who didn’t show up for work would be removed from “Mister Clean Housing” and “You will be escorted to pick up your plane ticket to go back to Jamaica. You will have an ICE or Okaloosa County Sheriff Department escort.”

ICE refers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The NGA has asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the case.

Villanueva refused to speak at length on the issue, asking inquiries be sent to him in writing. “These are false allegations,” he said Wednesday in a brief phone interview.

Deneise Gardener, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, said she was forced to live in squalor in a two-bedroom apartment with six other people in Panama City — sometimes without utilities.

“When I came here, we were sleeping on the floor, no utilities, and when we asked about our pay, he (Villanueva) said he was going to get ICE to throw us out of the country,” Gardener said.

The NGA has charged the number of workers per apartment has gone as high as 10 and 15 people.

Gardener said she came to Florida to save enough money to help her family back in Jamaica.

“I was working as a housekeeper here at Edgewater” Beach and Golf Resort, Gardener said. “Sometimes we would get no pay at all for weeks.”

Paul Wohlford, vice president of the Resort Collection, which includes Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort, issued a statement Wednesday saying the resorts provide “ethical, quality working environment and strives to make sure employees are treated fairly.”

“We do not condone unfair labor practices of any kind and we had zero knowledge of how these employees were treated; they were contracted through Mr. Clean, a contract labor company based in Destin, Fl.”

The statement added that if the allegations are true, The Resort Collection will stop doing business with Mr. Clean.

According to complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, the guest workers were required to pay between $1,800 and $2,500 each in mandatory pre-employment expenses. NGA’s lawyer contended the practice is illegal.

The Jamaican workers were supposed to be paid between $8.50 and $9 an hour. Most of them did not get anywhere close to that, Horwitz said.

Villanueva deducted from the employees’ paychecks transportation costs, visa expenses, uniforms, criminal background checks, medical checks, housing administration fees, first and last month’s rent and workers’ compensation insurance, according to the Labor Department complaint.

“They were indentured servants,” Horwitz said. “They deducted everything from their paychecks.”

The guest worker program only allows for the worker to work for one employer. If they did not stay with the current employer, they would have to be removed for the country, Horwitz said.

“They were trapped,” Horwitz said.

http://www.newsherald.com/news/business/guest-workers-protest-job-conditions-photo-gallery-1.197541?page=0

DOL OSHA citations against Walmart supplier C.J.’s Seafood

Despite threats to their families, guestworkers in Louisiana went on strike in June 2012 to expose forced labor on the Walmart supply chain. In Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, Walmart supplier C.J.’s Seafood subjected 40 Mexican guestworkers on H-2B visas to forced labor, stolen wages, unfair labor practices and discrimination—from which Walmart profited.

In July 2012, in response to an official complaint by the NGA, the Department of Labor cited C.J.’s Seafood for multiple serious violations of federal safety and health rules, and fined the company $21,550.

Read the full citation (PDF).

More on Breaking Chains at Walmart

Walmart Strikes Spread, Build on NGA Victory – The Nation – 11/16/12

Walmart Strike Spreads to Texas as Organizers Promise Massive Black Friday Protest

Josh Eidelson on November 16, 2012 – 9:10 AM ET

This morning, at 10 am local time, Dallas Walmart store workers are headed back to the picket line. Theirs is the latest in a string of strikes that hit a California warehouse Wednesday and Seattle stores on Thursday. There’s more where that came from: On a Thursday call with reporters, union-backed Walmart worker groups said to expect a thousand strikes or demonstrations spread over nine days, culminating in an unprecedented array of “Black Friday” disruptions. That news follows a major legal settlement by a Walmart contractor that organizers credited to a 2011 sit-in at Hershey’s Chocolate.

Dallas striker Colby Harris emphasized that despite issues with low pay and repeated retaliation, he’s committed to remaining a Walmart worker. “If you leave this job, you’re going to face retaliation in some form somewhere else…” he said last night. “If you change Walmart, and you change corporate America, it can really better a lot of people’s lives.”

Harris told The Nation that the main purpose of today’s picketing outside his Dallas store is to send a message to the workers inside: that “you can speak up and not get punished.” What if Walmart retaliates? “We’ll just take more actions…” said Harris. “It will not be accepted or tolerated.” He said that going on strike last month heightened his confidence: “I’m not as nervous to take actions now. I know I’ve done it before…I can do it again.”

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