Who Are FLAP’s Clients?
“Maria” (assumed name) was born and grew up in Mexico. She came to the United States nearly 12 years ago. Maria’s father, a small scale cattle herder and trader, was murdered when she was only 6 years old. From that point on, Maria had to abandon school and start working to help sustain her family. Her mother remarried a man who abused Maria in various ways forcing her to leave her house at an early age.
She immigrated to the United States in her early twenties. Since arriving to the U.S., Maria has married and is now the mother of an 11 month-old baby. Maria has held various low wage jobs: during her last job, Maria worked for a packing house that was not exempt from the legal obligation to pay their employees overtime wages for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week. Maria often worked over 60 hours per week alongside other Latino workers, but was only paid minimum wage for each hour she worked. Now, this was a packing house that was adjacent to its own fields. Allegedly it grew its own product and packed it, so it was agriculture and exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions. In actuality, however, the company was buying all of these products from other growers, packing them and reselling them at a profit, which is precisely what the 7th circuit said that they could not do. As a matter of fact, they were making sure evidence of this activity was destroyed.
Like other employees, in addition to not getting paid overtime like she should have been, our client was also verbally abused by her supervisors, and was often not even paid for all the hours she actually worked. Here we also had one of these cases where the company would ask her to come in 15 minutes prior to her scheduled shift each day and do some preparation work, but not pay her anything for it. Soon after becoming pregnant and having her baby, Maria was fired.
Since meeting Maria, the Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project has filed a lawsuit on her behalf to recover all of her owed wages plus damages. Her courage in coming forward may also allow other immigrant workers in the packing-house to recover their own owed wages for their hard work. Meanwhile, Maria continues to dream of a better future in this country where she will be able to spare her newborn son the hardships of her own childhood.
What is Corn Detasseling?
When growing corn, someone has to cut the tassels off each plant, otherwise it will self-fertilize and you will not get any corn. So if you have ever seen a huge corn field, somebody had to go through every single stalk in that field (under the scorching sun and often without access to water or bathrooms) and detassle the corn. In Illinois, many of our clients perform that task.
What is H-2A Visa Program?
The H-2A visa program allows employers to file a petition to bring outside workers (usually from Mexico) to fill positions in temporary and seasonal agricultural work due to shortages in available US workers. Unfortunately, the program is not overseen all that well. These workers do not have much protection, or remedies, under the program when their rights are violated. FLAP educates the workers about this program and litigates on their behalf.
Why Do Workers Keep Silent?
"Both documented and undocumented workers are reluctant to report abuses in the fields, and workers keep an unspoken pact, by and large, to mind their own business. When a stranger enters the field, most workers look down quickly, burying their eyes in the plants as if hoping to become invisible. Workers seem to want to disappear before strangers, for in the fields, any stranger could be an inspector who wants to talk, and for farm workers talk almost never means anything good. Immigration inspectors might want to talk about undocumented workers. Labor Department inspectors want to talk about wages, but complaints could get back to the "bossman" and so workers do not complain because they do not want to lose their jobs. Health officials might want to talk about illness, but a worker who confesses to having rashes or headaches or to feeling dizzy will be removed from the field and thus be out of work. Because talk -- of whatever kind -- can lead to no money, nobody talks."
- Paula DiPerna, from the book With These Hands
How Can I Help?
Volunteers can be a resource to clients like "Maria" (read her story to the right of this page) and can help us bring those resources to other clients in similar circumstances.
FLAP used Maria’s case in our informative materials because she represents a quintessential example of our clients, and also because her story, and similar stories, is the reason that FLAP does this work. This is a woman who had a difficult life back home, and who came here in search of hope. She has been contributing to this society for years with the sweat of her labor without even being paid properly for it, and she has been doing it hoping to earn a brighter future for her family than she ever experienced for herself. At core, she is a good, humble person in a very vulnerable spot where normally there isn’t anybody to help her out.