Today, the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) and Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Center for Migrant Rights, or CDM) served Butler Amusements, Inc., a California registered business and the largest carnival company in the western U.S., with a lawsuit that was filed in federal court last month for violations of state and federal minimum wage and overtime laws.
The plaintiffs, two carnival workers from Mexico, came to the U.S. on temporary work visas, known as H-2B visas. They were paid less than $400 a week for 70 – or more – hours of work. Fearing retaliation for seeking justice, the plaintiffs will file a Doe Motion to protect their interests and proceed anonymously.
H-2B workers are particularly vulnerable to retaliation and threats of retaliation because their visas bind them to the employer who sponsored them. Workers in the fair industry commonly face blacklisting, threats, and termination if they complain about working conditions.
“We believe Butler Amusements employs over 200 workers, the majority of whom are on H-2B visas,” said Fernando Flores, Director of LAS-ELC’s Wage and Hour Enforcement Litigation Program (WageHELP) and an attorney for the plaintiffs. “We hope this lawsuit will convince Butler Amusements to change its exploitative practices while showing other employers in the fair and carnival industry that taking advantage of migrant workers is not an option.”
Unfortunately, migrant workers in this industry face systematic violations of their labor and human rights. According to “Taken for a Ride: Migrant Workers in the U.S. Fair and Carnival Industry,” a recent report authored by CDM and American University Washington College of Law, H-2B workers in this sector are often woefully underpaid for performing grueling work in all kinds of weather, including assembling, operating, and breaking down carnival rides after traveling long distances between remote sites. H-2B workers in this industry are routinely paid a weekly lump sum, regardless of how many hours they worked, that often falls well below the minimum and overtime wage rates.
“Many H-2B visa workers face egregious wage and hour violations as well as numerous barriers to accessing justice,” said Jessica Stender, CDM’s Legal Director. “Working on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, CDM has found that weak regulations and lax enforcement allow and even incentivize employers to exploit workers in the fair and carnival industry.”
The recently passed Senate immigration reform bill recognizes the importance of stronger worker protections and accountability in the recruitment process for H-2B visa workers. Though more needs to be done to protect the rights of this overworked and underpaid labor force, the Senate bill is an important step in the right direction by mandating disclosures about the terms and conditions of employment so that workers are able to make informed decisions and enforce their rights.
The lawsuit alleges that Butler Amusements violated California and federal wage and hour laws, and seeks declaratory relief and damages to remedy these violations.