(MintPress) – C.J.’s Seafood, a company that supplies seafood to Wal-Mart, is bringing both companies under fire as eight plant workers in Louisiana are calling for Wal-Mart to drop the supplier due to its unethical labor practices, including allegedly forcing employees to work for up to 24 hours at a time without overtime pay and threatening […]
(MintPress) – C.J.’s Seafood, a company that supplies seafood to Wal-Mart, is bringing both companies under fire as eight plant workers in Louisiana are calling for Wal-Mart to drop the supplier due to its unethical labor practices, including allegedly forcing employees to work for up to 24 hours at a time without overtime pay and threatening their families with violence.
The employees have gathered more than 140,000 signatures on a petition in an attempt to persuade Wal-Mart to discontinue its relationship with the Louisiana-based seafood company, which provides 85 percent of its crawfish to the big box retailer.
According to the complaint filed by employees earlier this month, workers were forced to peel and boil crawfish for extended periods of time, were not compensated for overtime pay, threatened that they would be deported and discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin and retaliation.
The workers claim Latino employees “are forced to work longer and less desirable hours” than other people of color and are not being paid “according to the terms of their contract”.
According to employees, those peeling crawfish were usually women who worked from 2 a.m. until 5 p.m. and those cooking the fish were mostly men who were sometimes forced to work for up to 24 hours at a time.
Ana Diaz, who has worked at C.J.’s Seafood for eight years, told Reader Supported News, “On two occasions they locked the doors so we couldn’t take breaks because they wanted us to produce the crawfish in a shorter time. He said that if we took breaks then he would lose a lot of money.”
“We feel like we are slaves,” said another worker, Silvia Alfaro, who has been employed at the plant for five years.
The workers, all from Mexico, are part of guest worker programs, which allow U.S. employers to sponsor non-U.S. citizens as employees while they try to obtain a green card. For five months out of the year, 40 guest workers from Mexico work at C.J.’s Seafood before returning home for the remaining seven months of the year.
“The salary here is better. But the treatment is worse,” said Diaz. “Can you imagine what it’s like to get off work at 5 pm after working for 15 hours and go eat, take a shower, and have only 3 hours to sleep before you have to start all over again?” asks Diaz, a 40-year-old mother of four.
Allegations that the general manager of the seafood company, Michael Leblanc, contributed to the abuse have been included in workers’ claims. Leblanc is head of the Crawfish Processors Alliance, which is fighting attempts by the Department of Labor to improve pay for guest workers.
A supervisor at the plant has also been called into question after he allegedly warned workers that they would not want him as an enemy because he had contacts with bad people who would be able to find the employees wherever they went.
“We were afraid because he does know where many of us live. He knows where our family members live; he has our addresses and information. That’s when we felt the most locked in and the most abused,” Diaz said.
While the workers have reported complaints to the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against C.J.’s Seafood, the group also brought a petition with 130,000 names to the home of Wal-Mart board member Michelle Burns. The petition now has more than 140,000 signatures.
Additionally, the group wants to make it clear that while the seafood company is the one to blame for the unethical treatment of its workers, Wal-Mart, too, needs to look at its labor practices.
According to Saket Soni, director of the National Guestworker Alliance and of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, Wal-Mart must take a closer look at the practices of its providers, as C.J.’s Seafood violated seven out of 11 of Wal-Mart’s own labor standards for its suppliers.
“We’re not here to blame Walmart. We know it’s C.J.’s Seafood that committed the violations. But they sold their crawfish to you and you made your profits,” Soni told Sam’s Club management. Sam’s Club is owned by Wal-Mart. “You already have standards, all we want is for you to implement them.”
These allegations follow a complaint against Wal-Mart and an associated PR firm after a public relations employee was found impersonating a journalist in order to interview activists who were campaigning against working conditions in warehouses that supply large retail stores, like Wal-Mart.