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April 21, 2009

Guest workers sue Gulf Coast shipyard labor recruiters

A group of Brazilian workers has filed suit U.S. District Court in Gulfport, accusing two labor recruiters of racketeering, breach of contract and fraud.

In their complaint, the workers describe themselves as "temporary H-2B guest workers from Brazil who were fraudulently imported to work as welders and pipefitters" and assert that the defendants--Five Star Contractors L.L.C., Knights Marine & Industrial Services, Inc., David Knight and Brian Knight--"manipulated the H-2B guest worker program and defrauded the U.S. government and vulnerable migrant workers to generate a large pool of easily exploitable workers that Defendants could use to provide on-call labor to Gulf Coast shipyards. Five Star and Knights Marine deceived foreign workers about the terms and conditions of work being offered and deceived the U.S. Government about their intent to comply with the terms of the program including federal, state, and local worker protection laws."

"Based on promises of consistent, well-compensated work at a reputable shipyard through a regulated U.S. Government visa program," says the complaint, "guest workers plunged their families into debt to pay hiring, visa, and relocation fees and reluctantly turned over deeds to their houses with agents of Five Star. Upon arrival in Mississippi, they were transported to a surveillance labor camp consisting of windowless portable metal buildings while they waited weeks to be leased out. They waited weeks without work as their debts grew and they became increasingly desperate for Five Star and Knights Marine to comply with their contractual promises to worker and the U.S. Government."

The guest workers seek a declaration that their rights have been violated and an award of damages on behalf of themselves and other workers similarly situated for defendants' unlawful conduct, including, says the complaint, RICO violations and the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as for breach of contract, common-law fraud, and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing.

Read the complaint HERE

According to an AP report, the workers were assisted in bringing the suit by the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice and its Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity offshoot.

About a year ago, the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice was closely connected to demonstrations related to the alleged mistreatment of Indian workers by Gulf coast rig builder Signal International. Those demonstrations received widespread attention in the Indian media.


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