BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – Reed’s Reforestation lured more than 300 Guatemalans to the United States with false promises, then confiscated their passports, put them to forced labor in squalid conditions for less than minimum wage, threatened them and took illegal deductions from their pay, according to a federal class action.
Walter Reed, who owned the company, died on July 28. The workers demand compensatory and punitive damages from Reed’s Reforestation and Reed’s Forestry, which operate in three Southern states.
Lead plaintiffs Doroteo Gomez-Argueta and Reynaldo Vasquez-Gomez say Reed threatened them with deportation if they tried to quit and told them they would never be able to work in the United States again if they refused to do the forced labor.
Reed secured legal visas for approximately 307 guest workers, then violated state and federal wage and labor laws by, among other things, taking “illegal deductions” for recruitment, processing, visa and transportation, according to the complaint.
The workers say they were denied basic sleeping arrangements, kitchen facilities, basic sanitation, toilets, potable water and hand-washing facilities. They demand damages for forced labor, human trafficking, and violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act. They are represented by Caitlin Berberic with Southern Migrant Legal Services of Nashville.