Brutal Farm Labor Complaint in Florida

     MIAMI (CN) – Migrant farmworkers claim in court that Sunrise Labor Corp. and its agents charged them for smuggling them into the country, then worked them in chain gang-like conditions.
     John Does I-IV sued Sunrise Labor Corp. and Salvador, Francisco and Claudia Hernandez, in Federal Court. One plaintiff is a minor.
     The workers say they were not allowed to take breaks or drink water, and were beaten for not performing to expectations.
     “Acting within the scope of their employment, defendants Salvador Hernandez, Francisco Hernandez, and Claudia Hernandez recruited undocumented field workers in Mexico and the United States to work on farms and relied on a pattern of threats, violence, harassment, and indebtedness to force plaintiffs and other migrant farmworkers to perform grueling, back-breaking manual labor as defendants transported the workers between several states including Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Mississippi, and New York,” the complaint states.
     “Defendants imposed extraordinary and unlawful debts on plaintiffs and other migrant farmworkers and through threats and intimidations, caused plaintiffs and other migrant farmworkers to believe that leaving defendants’ employ would result in being hunted and seriously injured or even killed.
     “No plaintiff received the compensation they were entitled to under state and federal laws. At times, plaintiffs and other migrant farmworkers were not paid at all for their work. They were forced to work even when sick or injured and defendants denied them medical treatment. The housing conditions provided by defendants were horrendous.
     “Defendants Salvador Hernandez, Francisco Hernandez, and Claudia Hernandez instigated and created a hostile work environment, causing two plaintiffs to be physically and mentally assaulted by other migrant farmworkers and causing them to suffer depression and other severe emotional and mental distress.
     “After plaintiffs left defendant Sunrise Labor’s employ, defendants continued a scheme of threats and intimidation to prevent plaintiffs from taking action to assert their rights, and plaintiffs continue to fear for their lives and the lives of their families.
     “Defendant’s held plaintiffs in forced labor and trafficked plaintiffs with respect to peonage in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).
     “Defendants routinely failed to pay plaintiffs the minimum wage, as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and unlawfully deducted from their pay various charges, including the cost of smuggling plaintiffs into the United States.
     “Defendants engaged in multiple violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA). These include: (1) failing to disclose in writing the terms and conditions of employment at the time of recruitment; (2) providing false and misleading information to plaintiffs at the time of recruitment; (3) failing to pay the wages owed to plaintiffs when due; (4) failing to abide by the terms of a working arrangement; (5) failing to post requirements imposed upon employers and housing providers; (6) failing to provide each of the plaintiffs with an itemized pay statement; (7) housing plaintiffs in housing that did not comply with federal and state law; (8) failing to post a certificate of occupancy at the housing occupied by plaintiffs; and (9) transporting plaintiffs in unsafe vehicles.
     “Defendants Salvador Hernandez, Francisco Hernandez, and Claudia Hernandez’s harassment of John Does I and II based on their sexual orientation created a hostile work environment, instigating physical and mental assaults of John Does I and II by fellow migrant farmworkers employed by defendant Sunrise Labor, in violation of the New York Human Rights Law,” the complaint states.
     The workers add: “During their recruitment, or at any other time, plaintiffs were not provided with any written disclosure of the terms or conditions of employment.”
     They claim the Sunrise managers paid to smuggle them into the country, then held them and their families responsible for the debt and would not allow them to seek employment outside of their positions with Sunrise under threat of being “violently beaten.”
     “Defendant Salvador Hernandez often bragged to plaintiffs and other migrant farmworkers of his ability to hire agents to violently beat migrant farmworkers,” the complaint states/
     “Defendant Francisco Hernandez violently beat a migrant farmworker, a minor.
     “Defendant Salvador Hernandez additionally threatened to call ‘immigration,’ or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), concerning migrant farmworkers.
     “Plaintiffs believed these threats and feared violence, based at least in part on violence suffered by acquaintances; the presence of many injured migrant farmworkers at the housing camps provided by defendants in Belle Glade, Florida; and from accounts told by other migrant farmworkers of previous violent beatings performed pursuant the orders of defendant Salvador Hernandez.”
     The plaintiffs add: “When a migrant farmworker suffered fatigue or fell ill and stopped working, defendant Salvador Hernandez or his agent forcibly moved the migrant farmworker, threatened to violently beat the worker if he or she did not begin working, or forced the migrant farmworker to walk from the fields in which they worked to the migrant farmworker housing, regardless of the distance. …
     “To ensure that workers continued to work at a brutal pace, defendant Salvador Hernandez carried and brandished a handgun as he paced the fields where plaintiffs and other migrant farmworkers worked. At times, to intimidate plaintiffs and other migrant farmworkers, he shot birds and other objects located in the fields with the handgun. …
     “In Belle Glade, Florida, defendants housed John Does II, III, and IV in isolated, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions. Housing consisted of two-bedroom trailers that housed between ten and twelve migrant farmworkers. The trailers suffered rodent and insect infestations, holes in the roofs and floors, and non-functioning bathrooms.”
     The workers seek punitive damages for wage violations, human rights violations, human trafficking and peonage. They are represented by Jane Moscowitz.

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