Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

New Report Charges Exploitation of Immigrant Labor on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

07.18.10

AFL-CIO Blog is reporting on a new academic study that documents exploitation of immigrant labor in the seafood industry on Maryland’s famed Eastern shore. James Parks writes:

“In a stinging indictment of our broken immigration system, a new report shows that crab-picking houses on Maryland’s Eastern Shore rely mainly on hundreds of immigrant women workers who are forced to pay excessive and illegal fees to foreign recruiters only to end up in low-paying jobs in isolated rural areas with poor housing.”

“The report, “Picked Apart: The Hidden Struggles of Migrant Worker Women in the Maryland Crab Industry,” was released today by the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law and Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM). The transnational non-profit organization is dedicated to improving the working conditions of migrant workers in the United States.”

“The immigrant women, who are in the country on H-2B guest worker visas, must work only on the job for which they were recruited and cannot work elsewhere. Many employers exploit the women by paying them low wages and threatening to send them back home if they complain about living or working conditions.”

“More than half of the women reported serious housing problems and payroll deductions for knives, gloves and safety equipment. Several also said that male immigrant workers who wash the crabs were paid more and given more hours, and some said older women were not treated as well as younger women. One said she was asked to perform sexual favors, according to the report.”

“Jayesh Rathod, an assistant professor of law at American University, said under the nation’s current guest worker system, unscrupulous employers who don’t want to address unjust working conditions can “just decide to send workers home, and that happens.”

“Migrant pickers are paid by the pound, earning typically between $2 and $2.25 a pound, with those who can’t pick fast enough often sent home, the authors said.”

“The report calls for changes to the H-2B visa program, including regulating recruitment practices and sanctioning employers who use recruiters who charge excessive or improper fees to workers. The authors also recommend that the visas no longer tie workers to one employer, which would allow the workers to leave abusive working conditions.”

“Further, the report calls for extending the Maryland minimum wage and overtime protections to seafood workers and educating migrant workers before each season about their rights.”

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