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Suit: Migrant workers illegally underpaid to truck sugarcane

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Posted at 10:19 AM, Oct 26, 2021

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Six migrant workers from Mexico have filed a lawsuit against a Louisiana sugar company claiming they were brought into the country with visas listing them as farm workers, but were put to work as truck drivers hauling sugarcane from farms to a mill — a job carrying a higher wage.

The lawsuit filed in western Louisiana claims Sterling Sugars Sales Corporation obtained federal H-2A work visas identifying the six as farm workers, with job duties including harvesting sugarcane and maintaining farm equipment at wages less than $11 an hour.

“Instead, Plaintiffs and similarly situated workers were employed driving heavy trucks in excess of 26,000 pounds to transport harvested sugarcane from various farms in Louisiana back to processing facilities in Franklin, Louisiana,” the lawsuit said. “Defendant did not harvest the sugarcane crops it transported.”

The workers’ suit argues that the off-the-farm work carrying products to a mill for an employer who did not produce the sugarcane required a different type of visa, an H-2B visa. And, the suit said, they should have been paid at a rate just over $20 an hour under federal “prevailing wage” law.

The lawsuit also claims the workers routinely worked more than 40 hours a week — often as many as 80 hours a week — but were not paid at mandated overtime rates.

The lawsuit seeks payment of the unpaid wages and overtime pay under state and federal law. It also seeks to recover unpaid overtime for others hired to drive trucks for the company under similar situations in 2018, 2019, 2020, or 2021.

Sterling Sugars has not yet filed its response in federal court and did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Monday.

Lawyers with the Southern Migrant Legal Services project of the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of the six migrant workers. Attorneys with the same organization filed a federal lawsuit in May on behalf of workers who said they were illegally underpaid by a crawfish processing business in Louisiana.

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