Arkansas Farm Owner Sued for Violating Workers’ Rights

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MEDIA CONTACT:
Sarah Donaldson, Attorney
956.447.4800
sdonaldson@trla.org
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director
512.374.2764
cmartinez@trla.org

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – May 13, 2009 – An Arkansas farm owner is being sued by four Mexican guestworkers for labor trafficking and abuses suffered while they were employed on an Austin–based farm.

Represented by Southern Migrant Legal Services, the guestworkers allege that Jack Odom of Odom Farms brought them to the United States for work and forced them to live in deplorable conditions, confiscated their passports, and failed to pay them as promised.

“These workers followed the law in coming to this country,” said the workers’ attorney Sarah Donaldson.  “In return, they were intimidated, abused, and taken advantage of.”

According to their lawsuit, Odom forced the workers to live in inhumane conditions in a metal shed that was infested with bugs and did not have adequate facilities.  They were not allowed to leave the shed without an escort, were not reimbursed for expenses, and were not paid proper wages.  Additionally, the men were subjected to constant verbal abuse and were threatened that Odom would keep them from returning to the United States legally if they complained or left due to the conditions.

Odom brought the workers to the United States using the H-2A guestworker visa program which allows employers to hire foreign workers if sufficient domestic labor cannot be found.  In addition to providing a way for foreign workers to come to the United States, the program also provides legal protections for their rights to safe housing, transportation, and adequate wages.

But the guestworker program is meant to protect domestic workers and employers as well.

Added Donaldson, “Everyone is hurt when producers abuse the guestworker program like this.  Not only do the guestworkers suffer, but U.S. workers are cut out of the labor market and abusive employers gain an unfair advantage over their competition.”

A copy of the lawsuit can be found at http://bit.ly/jackodom.

Southern Migrant Legal Services is a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) that provides free legal services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, 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 in Texas. 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. For more information on TRLA and this story visit http://www.trla.org.

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