Here in Southern California, many immigrants work long days under brutal conditions to help grow and harvest the food that our state distributes throughout the country. They are an essential part of California’s agricultural industry. Because they are often not citizens or legal residents, and have limited English skills and employment options, they can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous companies, and have little or no recourse.
A recent settlement provides a ray of hope that these laborers’ conditions are not being ignored. One of the largest growers of produce in the world, Del Monte, is paying $1.2 million to put an end to a discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of workers from Thailand who were employed on its Hawaii pineapple farms.
The suit, filed in 2011, alleges that companies that contracted laborers for Del Monte not only did not adequately compensate the immigrants for their work, but required them to pay the contractors steep fees in order to get a job. Furthermore, according to the suit, the laborers had to live in “uninhabitable housing” and were not provided enough food.
According to the EEOC, the contractors told anyone who complained about the working or living conditions that they would be sent to jail or back to Thailand. Sometimes they were even physically assaulted.
While the contractors are the ones charged with the abusive and illegal treatment, the EEOC suit contended that if Del Monte was not aware of what was going on, it should have been. The mistreatment alleged in the suit occurred between 2003 and 2006.
In addition to paying the settlement, which will go to the workers who suffered the mistreatment, Del Monte has promised to work with its labor contractors to help ensure that they abide by anti-discrimination and other employment laws and make sure that workers know their rights.
EEOC attorneys in the Los Angeles regional office, which oversees cases involving Hawaii, commended Del Monte for settling the case, and say they hope this will serve as a “wake-up call” for other companies involved in agriculture that the exploitation of vulnerable workers will not be tolerated.
While most employees who face discrimination do not have to endure the conditions that these workers did, everyone is entitled to a workplace that is free from harassment and unfair treatment, and to seek justice if that is not provided.
The Los Angeles Times, “Del Monte to pay $1.2 million to settle worker-discrimination lawsuit” Stuart Pfeifer, Nov. 18, 2013