Job Contractors Accused of Forced Labor

MIAMI (CN) – Seventeen Filipino workers claim in court that Florida employment agencies forced them into slave labor after promising them good jobs and green cards.
     “Defendants threatened plaintiffs with arrest, imprisonment, deportation, cancellation of their visas, loss of work, lawsuits and blacklisting,” according to the 117-page federal complaint.
     Lead plaintiff Ma Cecilia M. Delgado et al. San Villa Ship Management Co., Lincoln Road Employment Advisory Services LLC, and South Beach Employment Advisory Services LLC, and their officers Lorna Melgarejo, Jucilyn Villanueva and Jose B. Villanueva.
     The RICO complaint includes allegations of involuntary servitude and violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
     “Plaintiffs were brought into this country as H-2B guest workers from the Philippines under false promises of fair pay and humane treatment,” the complaint states. “Defendants knowingly and willfully conspired to recruit plaintiffs from the Philippines using fraudulent visa applications, false promises and misrepresentations regarding the terms and conditions of employment to induce the plaintiff to work for defendants in the Unites States.
     “Defendants forced plaintiffs to live in severely overcrowded housing and to work wither long or no hours at all in country clubs and hotels in Florida, South Carolina and in New York. To ensure that plaintiffs complied with their demanding work schedules or to ensure that plaintiffs continued to stay with defendants despite the absence of job availability, defendants threatened plaintiffs with arrest, imprisonment, deportation, cancellation of their visas, loss of work, lawsuits and blacklisting, and convinced plaintiffs that they had close relationships with officials in the U.S. and Philippine governments. Defendants also deducted exorbitant monthly fees from plaintiffs’ paychecks for recruitment fees, which are considered illegal under H-2B regulations. As a result of this campaign of fraud and coercion, plaintiffs remained in constant fear of the defendants and believed they had no choice but to obey their orders and continue working.”
     The workers claim the “defendants also misled the U.S. government by providing inaccurate information on the H-2B visa applications and Department of Labor certification forms submitted for plaintiffs, including the location and amount of work and pay. …
     “Defendants also underpaid plaintiff and charged them unlawfully for recruitment fees in the amount of $690 each, which amount was deducted from the plaintiffs’ first three months pay checks. …
     “Many of defendants’ employees, including plaintiffs eventually had to escape from the conditions of coercion and control imposed on them by defendants.”
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, and compensatory, punitive, treble, and liquidated damages.
     They are represented by Felix Vinluan of New York City.

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