Guestworkers Sue Tennessee Nursery Owner Over Pay, Retaliation

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 10, 2008 
Contact: Melody Fowler-Green
(615) 750-1200
mfgreen@trla.org

WINCHESTER, Tennessee –Six Mexican guestworkers have filed a lawsuit against Middle Tennessee nursery owner Michael Allison for providing poor working and housing conditions and failing to pay adequate wages and transportation costs during their employment.

Represented by Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS) of Nashville, the workers allege that Allison, owner of Allison Tree Digging, paid them less than the minimum wage, failed to reimburse them for necessary expenses, breached their employment contracts, and retaliated against workers who tried to enforce their labor rights.  The workers were employed by Allison between 1999 and 2008.

The workers were hired under the federal H-2A program which allows agricultural employers to request temporary visas for foreign workers when sufficient domestic labor cannot be found.  Employers participating in the guestworker program must pay workers wages higher than the federal minimum wage, provide housing that meets health and safety standards, and comply with all labor laws. 

“If employers can get away with paying foreign guestworkers less than the minimum wage, then there’s no incentive for them to hire U.S. workers,” said Melody Fowler-Green, the workers’ attorney with SMLS.  “The H-2A program tries to ensure that both foreign and domestic workers are protected.”

After the workers complained about the working conditions, their employment was terminated.  According to the workers, Allison also failed to pay for their transportation back to Mexico.

“H-2A workers often come from poor, rural areas of Mexico and incur large debts to come work in the United States,” Fowler-Green added. “These costs should be paid by the employer.  Unfortunately, employers often fail to live up to the promises they make when workers are recruited.”

The guestworkers filed their lawsuit on April 3, 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Winchester, Tennessee. Daniel Gaona-Gaona, et al. v. Michael Allison d/b/a Allison Tree Digging, Civ. No. 4:08-cv-28, U.S. Dist. Ct., E.D. Tenn., Winchester Div.

Southern Migrant Legal Services is a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) that provides free legal services to migrant and seasonal farm workers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Established in 1970, TRLA is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area that covers the southwestern third of the state, including the entire Texas-Mexico border region. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texans by providing high quality legal services and related educational services.

 

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