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EEOC joins fight for Signal workers

April 22
21:12 2011


NEW YORK: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has followed the wake of several civil liberties organizations in fighting for the rights of hundreds of Indian-origin workers who were allegedly discriminated upon by Signal International.

A lawsuit filed April 20, by the EEOC against Signal International for abusing hundreds of foreign guest workers lured to work in the US after Hurricane Katrina reinforces similar claims brought on behalf of the same workers by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Louisiana Justice Institute and the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP in a class action lawsuit pending against the same company.

The EEOC’s lawsuit against Signal charges that the company discriminated against hundreds of Indian guest workers lured into forced labor in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Orange, Texas.

The EEOC case alleges that Signal forced the workers to live in overcrowded, unsanitary and racially segregated labor camps; assigned them the most dangerous and difficult jobs; subjected them to hostile treatment based on their race and national origin; and retaliated against two workers for complaining about the discriminatory treatment.

The EEOC alleges that Signal violated the rights of the Indian guest workers under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The former guest workers continue to litigate a class action lawsuit against Signal and other related defendants alleging, among other things, human trafficking and racketeering. Later this week, the attorneys will seek to join the EEOC’s case on behalf of some of the same workers.

Signal, a marine and fabrication company with shipyards in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, is a subcontractor for several major multi-national companies. After Hurricane Katrina scattered its workforce, Signal used the US government’s guest worker program to import employees to work as welders and pipe fitters.

Between 2004 and 2006, hundreds of Indian men paid Signal’s recruiters as much as $20,000 for travel, visa, recruitment and other fees after they were told it would lead to good jobs, green cards and permanent US residency.

Many of the workers sold their houses and other valuables and took out high-interest loans to come up with the money.

When the men arrived at Signal in late 2006 and early 2007, they discovered that they wouldn’t receive the green cards as promised, but rather 10-month guest worker visas.

Signal forced them to pay $1,050 a month to live in crowded company housing in isolated, fenced labor camps where as many as 24 men shared a trailer with only two toilets. When the guest workers tried to find their own housing, Signal officials told them they would still have the mancamp fees deducted from their paychecks.

Visitors were not allowed into the camps. Company employees regularly searched the workers’ belongings. Workers who complained about the conditions they faced were threatened with deportation.

Sabulal Vijayan, a plaintiff in the human trafficking and racketeering lawsuit and a charging party in the EEOC’s case: “All I wanted was a better life for my family.

That was why I came to America. Instead, I was subjected to discrimination and abuse I never thought I’d experience in this country.”

Another plaintiff Jacob Joseph Kadakkarappally said: “American workers would never be forced to endure what Signal did to us. Signal thought they could get away with the abuses because we’re from India.”

The EEOC’s case was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

India Post News Service




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