The AFL-CIO, together with Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM), the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations, filed a complaint today against the United States under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) on behalf of immigrant workers brought to the United States under the H-2B visa program.
The workers have attempted under U.S. law to gain redress with no success so, they are using NAALC, a supplemental agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, to hold their employer accountable.
According to the complaint, the United States allowed companies to routinely pay H-2B workers less than the minimum hourly wage and deny them overtime and reimbursement for travel, visa and recruitment costs.
“When domestic labor laws are not enforced, it is not only the workers who are harmed,” said Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director of CDM, the first transnational workers’ rights law center based in Mexico.
Competing employers are placed at an economic disadvantage, free trade is disrupted, and employees everywhere are detrimentally affected.
The workers named in the complaint worked for J&J Amusements Inc. in 2007 and Reithoffer Shows Inc. in 2008 on H-2B visas. While employed in the United States, the complaint says, they were consistently paid below the federal minimum wage, they were denied overtime wages and some were not paid for all the hours they worked.
Workers employed by J&J, including those named in the complaint, earned about $20 per day and worked at least 12 hours each day. Taking into account other expenses related to work, the J&J workers earned a net wage of about $1.61 per hour.
The complaint also alleges that several H-2B employers who put on fairs fined workers for arriving as few as five minutes late to work, for “bad behavior,” in this case, using the bathroom while not on an authorized break, and for complaining about rights violations. Reithoffer Shows, for example, fined one of the workers in the complaint $30 for arriving as few as five minutes late to his job and $40 for using the bathroom.
“For nearly a decade under the Bush administration, corporations had unbridled power to use the H-2B program to drive down wages and working conditions in the United States,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
[U.S. Labor] Secretary [Hilda] Solis has made some progress toward re-establishing the rule of law in this program, but much more needs to be done, including giving workers the power to hold their employers accountable through domestic law as well as international law. As long as corporations have a steady pool of workers they can exploit, workplace conditions for workers everywhere suffer.