LatinaLista — When Marlen Guadalupe Landeros Covarrubias, Sandivel Villanueva Flores and Rita Dorali Curiel Sandoval decided to leave their native Mexico and come to the United States to work, they wanted to do it the right way.
They decided to come as temporary migrant guestworkers to work for the North Carolina-based seafood company Captain Charlie’s Seafood.
What these women soon found out — doing things the right way has a high price tag, in more ways than one.
Women sit at their stations cleaning meat from cooked crabs.
Guadalupe, Sandival and Rita accepted the recruitment offer by Captain Charlie’s Seafood reps who went south of the border looking for temporary workers under the H-2B program. To qualify to come, all three women had to purchase a “Derecho de Visa” — something that used to cost $45 but now costs $100. The women purchased it at their own expense.
Next, the three women had to pay another visa fee to the U.S. Consulate — an additional $100. Yet, that doesn’t take into consideration the transportation costs to the U.S. Consulate and hotel costs in Monterrey, Mexico, from their homes elsewhere in the country, where the women had to go for their interviews and wait until their visas cleared — again, all expenses they paid out of pocket.
Once they were approved for their visas, the women had to get to North Carolina to start working. So, they bought a bus ticket that cost $270 and paid a $6 border crossing fee to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Before they knew it, they were on their way — and already in debt before they were to receive their first paycheck. To top it off, their new employer refused to reimburse them any of their expenses as they were required by law to do.
What’s worse is that Captain Charlie’s Seafood shortchanged the women of hard-earned wages and the opportunity to perform certain kinds of work simply because they were women.
The three have filed a lawsuit today against the company demanding that since they did all they were supposed to do to follow the rule of U.S. law, this American company must do the same.
Today, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and the North Carolina Justice Center filed the lawsuit, Landeros Covarrubias, et al. v. Capt. Charlie’s Seafood, Inc., on behalf of the three women and other workers in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The lawsuit charges that Captain Charlie’s discriminated against them on the basis of sex by restricting them to certain work, which culminated in their wrongful termination in violation of North Carolina public policy prohibiting such gender-based employment decisions.
The lawsuit also charges that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and the North Carolina Wages and Hours Act in underpaying workers and failing to reimburse them for travel and visa expenses.
When the women arrived at the seafood plant, they were given the job of “picking crabs,” a task that includes cleaning the meat from cooked crabs and putting the meat in a bucket. Though they were told when recruited they would be working a certain amount of time, the management gave them fewer hours than the men they had recruited.
In fact, the men were given all kinds of jobs like cooking, carrying the crabs or handling the crab traps — jobs the women say they could have easily done but were not allowed to, in turn, not able to earn the money they had been promised.
Eventually, when it came time to terminate workers, the company fired about 20 women crab pickers but kept the men on who were doing the other work. Though the women had been given glowing evaluations, the men were the only ones allowed to work longer hours, more days and given more responsibility.
In essence, these actions kept the women underpaid and behind in their promised salaries. When they were let go, the women were barely better off than before they started their ordeal.
There is no doubt that Captain Charlie’s Seafood company will fight this lawsuit but if justice is truly working then these women should prevail. This company clearly violated the conditions of reimbursing workers’ expenses in the process of complying with H-2B visa regulations, reneged on the wages promised the women and discriminated against them because of their gender.
While some may say that the management was looking out for the safety and/or health of these women by denying them the work they allowed the men to do, then it was up to the company to provide comparable tasks so the women could earn the money they were promised and which served as the only reason for them to travel hundreds of miles away to a foreign country, away from their families, to work in a smelly plant doing a job that out-of-work locals could easily have done.
One has to ask, since this is a perfect example, why aren’t the locals doing this work? Too smelly? Too backbreaking? Or maybe the pay is too low?
If justice is to be served, management at Captain Charlie’s Seafood is going to feel a little crabby — an emotion that all other employers, who also take advantage of temporary guestworkers, are bound to feel once comprehensive immigration reform is passed and outlaws the notion that immigrant workers are only useful when they’re exploited.