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In the "Shuck and Jive" Department, Mexican Workers get $30,000 Clams For Sub-Minimum Pay After Being Brought to 'Bama on Immigrant Visas to Open Gulf Oysters

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by   Samuel Morris               Godwin Morris Laurenzi Bloomfield

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 In the "Shuck and Jive" Department, Mexican Workers get $30,000 Clams For Sub-Minimum Pay After Being Brought to 'Bama on Immigrant Visas to Open Gulf Oysters

Seafood company to pay back wages to migrant workers

Phillip Lucas, Associated Press

 

Updated 7:51 pm, Thursday, March 17, 2016

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- A seafood company has agreed to pay a group of migrant workers back wages in a class action lawsuit.

A federal judge Wednesday ordered R&A Oysters to pay 18 migrant workers more than $30,000 in back wages and attorney fees. The laborers were brought from Mexico on H-2B temporary work visas to shuck oysters at the company's facility in Mobile County. The H-2B visas allow employers to temporarily hire foreign nonagricultural workers.

Attorneys for the Louisiana-based company and lawyers representing the workers agreed to a consent judgment to settle claims that laborers were paid less than the federal minimum wage during their first week of work. The Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights advocacy group represented the workers.

The laborers said in their complaint that the company failed to reimburse them for expenses they incurred before they began work and withheld money from their first paycheck to cover costs of tools and other gear, which caused their hourly pay to drop below $7.25.

"I think that it's extremely meaningful for the workers and their families. They're low wage workers who come to the United States to come and make a better life for themselves," said Meredith Stewart, a staff attorney with the SPLC's Immigrant Justice Project who is serving as lead attorney for the migrant workers.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based advocacy group is involved in similar lawsuits in Mississippi and South Carolina.

"Our experience tells us these programs are very abusive and the workers who come over are extremely vulnerable to wage theft and other forms of wage exploitation," Stewart said.

Attorney Rick LaTrace represents R&A Oysters and said the settlement on the Fair Labor Standards Act claim is a strategic move as the company has yet to resolve additional claims of retaliation and breach of contract. He said the company wasn't looking to exploit the workers and none of them asked for reimbursement before the lawsuit was filed.

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