GREENVILLE, N.C. (CN) – Eleven black workers say a North Carolina vegetable farm made them dig holes with their hands, and used the blatant discrimination to justify firing them, to show there were no U.S. workers available, so the farm could bring in 58 Mexican workers on H-2A visas.
The 11 men sued Alligator River Farms in Federal Court. They claim the Hyde County vegetable farm discriminated against them, held them to different standards than Mexican migrants and refused to even give them hand tools to plant the season’s broccoli crop.
“Defendant was required by law to recruit and hire workers such as the plaintiffs as a condition for accomplishing their ultimate goal: to obtain certification from the Department of Labor to bring a crew of Mexican H-2A workers to work on their farm during the 2010 agricultural season,” the complaint states. “Upon hire, plaintiffs found a hostile work environment, discriminatory job conditions and constant comparison of their performance to the preferred crew of Mexican workers, and violations of their rights under the basic federal law that protects migrant and seasonal farm workers.”
To obtain H-2A certification, an employer must show that there are not enough U.S. workers ready and available to perform the jobs it has available and that the payment of wages to foreign workers will not affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.
The 11 plaintiffs say that when they reported to work, they “were not given any hand tools. Defendant’s supervisors instructed plaintiffs to create the hole in which to plant each broccoli plant with their hands and exhorted them to quickly plant flats of small broccoli plants.”
They say it quickly became obvious that the farm wanted the Mexicans to stay and the black workers to go.
“Throughout the days that plaintiffs worked for defendants, they were subjected to treatment that was different from the Mexican crew,” the complaint states.
“For example, they were not permitted to work in teams, so that one plaintiff would create the spaces to plant the broccoli and another plant it, as the Mexican crew did. They were also discouraged from talking to each other, as the Mexican crew did. …
Subjected to a barrage of predictions that they would ‘be cut’ from the workforce, working in mud, and requested to work on Sunday, March 28, all of the plaintiffs except plaintiff Shelton, either were terminated for failure to meet the defendant’s production requirement or were so discouraged that they quit to avoid the humiliation of being ‘cut.’ Plaintiff Shelton did not work the morning of March 28 because he went to church. When he reported that afternoon, he was fired for failure to report that morning.”
The plaintiffs seek actual and punitive damages for violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and Title Vii of the Civil Rights Act.
They are represented by Caroline C. Smiley with Legal Aid of North Carolina in Raleigh.