Two visitor staff from Mexico say they had been stricken with COVID-19 as they processed crawfish in a crowded Louisiana plant ― and that their bosses forbid them from going to the hospital and threatened to report them to immigration authorities after they lastly did. In the end, they obtained fired.
The ladies, Reyna Isabel Alvarez Navarro and Maribel Hernandez Villadares, detailed their disturbing allegations this month in filings with the Occupational Security and Well being Administration and the Nationwide Labor Relations Board. The paperwork (right here, right here and right here) supply a chilling depiction of the challenges confronting important staff amid the pandemic, just like the extensively reported tales from meatpacking crops.
On this case, each ladies had been foreign-born visitor staff who got here to the U.S. on non permanent H-2B visas to work at Acadia Processors, a crawfish wholesaler in Crowley, Louisiana.
Seafood processors alongside the Gulf Coast use the H-2B staff, and claims about poor working circumstances and substandard housing aren’t unusual. This system ties a employee’s employment to a specific firm during the visa, an association that may stop staff from looking for different jobs or talking up about working and dwelling circumstances.
Alvarez Navarro and Hernandez Villadares say they slept at company-provided housing whereas engaged on the close by crawfish farm, a standard association in H-2B relationships. Based on their complaints, staff within the plant started to indicate signs of COVID-19 in late March, and their supervisors quickly imposed a “strict quarantine” and informed them to not depart their dwelling quarters.
I felt like I used to be within the arms of the bosses.
Reyna Isabel Alvarez Navarro
Alvarez Navarro and Hernandez Villadares stated they grew to become “extraordinarily sick” in mid-Could, however had been informed to switch to quarantine housing as an alternative of looking for medical therapy. “I informed my coworkers that I didn’t belief the corporate to deal with us and I assumed we might all be safer going to the hospital instantly,” Alvarez Navarro wrote in her cost with the NLRB.
The 2 stated they went to Acadia Basic Hospital for therapy on Could 15 and didn’t return to the corporate housing. They had been fired, and supervisors informed them that the corporate was going to report them to immigration as a result of they not labored for the corporate that held their visa, the pair stated of their filings.
Three days after the ladies say they went to the hospital, the Louisiana Division of Well being publicly introduced extreme coronavirus outbreaks had occurred among the many workforces at three crawfish crops in Acadia and Lafayette parishes.
Aly Neel, a spokesperson for the state well being division, stated the company wouldn’t verify whether or not Acadia Processors was one of many trio of crops with main outbreaks. She stated a complete of about 100 instances had been reported on the three.
“We labored carefully with the amenities to reduce an infection, guarantee entry to testing and supply technical assist, together with helping with non permanent housing for many who had been unable to isolate,” Neel stated in an e mail. “Luckily, prior to now month there have been no new instances.”
Acadia didn’t reply to messages left looking for touch upon the ladies’s allegations.
The New Orleans-based information website The Advocate reported on the outbreaks at unnamed crops final month, discovering that the crowded dwelling quarters for visitor staff probably performed a big position. “If one individual will get it, there’s a great probability everybody’s going to get sick,” one crawfish farmer informed the outlet.
Based on Labor Division data, Acadia Processors requested at the least 100 visitor staff for 2020, to be paid a base charge of $9.75 per hour, although staff can earn extra relying on how briskly they peel crawfish. The housing offered could be “voluntary” and “low value,” the corporate stated in its utility, with the corporate deducting $50 per week from those that opted for it.
In an interview with HuffPost, Alvarez Navarro stated she and others labored so shut to 1 one other within the plant that their shoulders touched, and so they typically slept six or seven to a room within the dorm-style firm housing. “One kitchen for everybody, one eating space the place we eat collectively,” she stated in Spanish via an interpreter.
Alvarez Navarro stated it appeared as if everybody was contaminated, with a lot of the workforce exhibiting flu-like signs. She stated supervisors took her and different staff to a clinic to get examined for the coronavirus, however she by no means obtained the outcomes. She stated exams additionally had been provided on the plant, however staff had been being charged for them.
She stated a good friend who lived on the town took her and Hernandez Villadares to the hospital, including that she felt “like I used to be going to die.”
Firm officers stated “nobody can depart the home nor may anybody are available in,” she stated. “I felt like I used to be within the arms of the bosses. When folks had been contaminated… I had no assets to get examined. I simply needed to know.”
She stated she obtained constructive take a look at outcomes from the hospital about 4 days later.
Alvarez Navarro and Hernandez Villadares say they had been processing crawfish at a Louisiana plant after they and different staff obtained sick with COVID-19.
Daniel Costa, an immigration legislation professional on the Washington-based Financial Coverage Institute, stated that basically, the dwelling and dealing circumstances for H-2B staff are “tailored” for spreading the coronavirus.
The employees “are at all times simply fire-able in the event that they converse up about wages or working circumstances ― which ends up in them dropping their visa standing and changing into deportable ― and most are petrified of dropping their jobs as a result of they’ve paid hefty recruitment charges,” Costa stated in an e mail. “Now on prime of that they’ve to fret about getting sick and the virus spreading within the office and in dwelling quarters, and their employers not caring and never taking satisfactory precautions or implementing security measures.”
Alvarez Navarro and Hernandez Villadares have obtained authorized help from Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, a employee heart for migrant staff from Mexico, which organized the interview with Alvarez Navarro. In a letter to OSHA, the group argued that the ladies’s refusal to remain in company-ordered quarantine housing is protected below security whistleblower legislation: They feared for his or her lives and had no affordable different.
If their firings had been discovered to be unlawful, the 2 ladies could be entitled to again pay and job reinstatement.
The Seafood Staff Alliance, a New Orleans-based employee heart, has been organizing visitor staff in an try to enhance the roles inside seafood processing crops within the space. Sabina Hinz-Foley Trejo, an organizer for the group, stated coronavirus outbreaks had been “inevitable” contemplating the working requirements and H-2B preparations.
“The vast majority of crawfish peeler and harvesters are visitor staff. That complete system simply permits for little or no enforcement, little or no employee protections, and a whole lot of retaliation,” she stated. “There are a whole lot of actually horrible labor practices.”
Hinz-Foley Trejo additionally criticized the state for not disclosing the names of the crops the place staff had excessive an infection charges, saying it was a matter of public well being to know the place main outbreaks occurred.
“To maintain this secret and to guard employers via this, primarily the state is complicit,” she stated.
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