Guestworkers Sue Kentucky Tobacco Growers Over Wage Claims

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
Melody Fowler-Green, Attorney
615.750.1202
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director
512.374.2764

BOWLING GREEN, Kentucky – September 15, 2009 – Fourteen Mexican guestworkers are suing three Kentucky tobacco growers for numerous workers’ rights violations while the workers were employed at local tobacco fields.

The workers were employed by Corby Brown, Elliott Brown, and Larry Brown in 2007 and 2008 under the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.  Represented by Southern Migrant Legal Services, the workers allege that the Browns failed to reimburse them for necessary expenses, paid them a piece rate wage that was below the minimum wage, and failed to provide them with work throughout the period for which they were hired.

“Workers are entitled to earn at least the minimum wage, even if they are paid by the piece” said SMLS attorney Melody Fowler-Green.  “The Browns used a system that resulted in unlawfully low wages being paid to even the most productive workers.”

According to the lawsuit, the Browns used a pay-by-piece system to pay the guestworkers.  When using this system, employers are required to supplement that rate to ensure that each worker is, at minimum, earning the minimum wage.  The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.  Because the Browns used the H-2A visa program to hire the workers, they were also required to reimburse necessary visa and transportation expenses.

Added Fowler-Green, “No matter what system employers use, they have to ensure that workers are receiving the wages and benefits legally guaranteed to them.”

Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS) is a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) based in Nashville, Tennessee that provides free employment-related legal services to migrant farmworkers who work in Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, 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.  For more information on Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. and this story visit http://www.trla.org.

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