One thing about the labor market in the United States is that there is so much unbelievably horrifying exploitation going on in ways that you wouldn’t even think of. Now that it is expanding back into the open use of child labor, it is getting a bit more attention, but as I have been saying for years now, there are all sorts of things happening in an out of sight way. Here is a elucidating, if horrifying example:
Two Iowa trucking companies are being sued for racketeering and fraud for allegedly obtaining cheap labor from South Africa through the use of a fictitious cattle-feeding operation.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa by the national nonprofit organization Farmworker Justice and by Iowa Legal Aid. Named as defendants are Kuchenbecker Excavating and H & S Farms-Livestock, their owners, and a Tennessee worker-placement company, Golden Opportunities International.
The companies are accused of conspiracy and racketeering activities involving “numerous acts of visa fraud, wire fraud, and fraud in foreign labor contracting, which all are ongoing and continue to the present.”
Trent Taylor, an attorney with Farmworker Justice, said Friday that the practices alleged in the lawsuit appear to be relatively common in the agriculture industry.
“Generally speaking, companies have often, through different means, employed different types of fraud to evade the restrictions imposed on the use of temporary migrant workers in the United States,” he said.
The companies hire migrant workers, in theory for seasonal agricultural work, as a way of obtaining cheap labor. The workers’ visa status makes them far less likely to challenge any violations related to the visa program or wage-and-hour laws, Taylor said.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges Hanekom first learned about the job in Iowa by talking with one of the companies’ employees, Steve Robinson, on the phone. Robinson allegedly promised Hanekom 75 hours of work per week on a farm hauling grain, chicken manure and other agricultural commodities. The job was to pay $17 an hour, plus housing and meals.
Hanekom accepted the job and left his home in South Africa to come to Rake, Iowa, where he was put to work as a long-haul trucker, spending most of his nights in hotels while hauling loads of rock used to build a new runway at an Air Force base and hauling construction materials for a bridge and a power station. Hanekom had to use his own money to pay for meals while on the road, the lawsuit claims. His hourly wages were allegedly well below the prevailing wage for non-agricultural heavy truck driving.
This is why I find guestworker programs effectively unacceptable. Unless workers have the right to leave a job and take another job, they have no real rights at all. Meanwhile, the ag industry especially searches the Earth and uses its lawyers to figure new ways to recruit cheap labor and new parts of the globe to exploit.