Workers Sue Local Sweet Potato Grower for Violating Labor Rights

PDF Version Available for Download

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 15, 2008

Contact: Caitlin Berberich, Attorney
615.750.1200
cberberich@trla.org
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director
512.374.2764
cmartinez@trla.org

WORKERS SUE LOCAL SWEET POTATO GROWER
FOR VIOLATING LABOR RIGHTS

VARDAMAN, Mississippi – Twenty-seven Mexican farmworkers are suing local sweet potato growers Ryan Alexander and Alexander Farms, LLC for violating minimum wage laws and failing to adhere to their employment contracts.

Represented by Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS), a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and Tupelo attorney Brent McBride, the farmworkers allege that they were not given the hours of work promised in their contracts and that they were paid less than the minimum wage because they were not reimbursed for mandatory expenses.

“Our clients fronted huge costs and went into debt based on promises of work,” said Caitlin Berberich, an SMLS attorney representing the group.  “When a grower like Alexander decides to use foreign rather than U.S. workers, he can’t push the costs of his decision onto indigent workers.”

This lawsuit comes days after a similar lawsuit was settled against local grower Thorn Custom Harvesting, LLC and at a time when the U.S. Department of Labor has proposed new H-2A regulations that would drastically reduce protections for U.S. and H-2A agricultural workers. SMLS has represented H-2A workers in six lawsuits against growers in Mississippi over the last two years.

The workers were brought to the United States by the H-2A guestworker program which allows employers to hire foreign workers if they cannot find U.S. workers to meet their labor needs.  About 37,000 H-2A workers are employed by growers nationwide, with the program being used disproportionately by growers in the Southeast.  The majority of farmworkers are undocumented immigrants.

“The agricultural and immigration systems are broken,” added Ms. Berberich.  “Our clients, who have followed the rules every step of the way, shouldn’t be the ones who suffer because of it.”

The farm workers filed their lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi in Oxford, Octavio Romero-Hernandez, et al. v. Ryan Alexander, et al., Civ. No. 3:08-cv-00093, U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Miss., Eastern Div.

Southern Migrant Legal Services is a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) based in Nashville, Tennessee that provides free employment-related legal services to migrant farm workers who work in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texas residents by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.

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