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Jan
2016
14

Lawsuit Alleges H-2b Visa Workers Faced “Ungodly Conditions” at Minnesota State Fair

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A recently filed lawsuit alleges that a carnival company abused the H-2B visa system in order to circumvent labor laws and exposed the workers to “ungodly conditions.”  The company, Midwest Rides aka Mad-Jax Amusements, faces 26 claims including violations of federal and state labor laws, human trafficking, assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The lawsuit began after several of the workers snuck away in the middle of the night.

The workers were brought to Minnesota from Mexico via the H-2b visa system.  The system is riddled with abuse. Subpar conditions and improper payment are common occurrences.  H-2b visas are intended to go to foreign workers in places where there are seasonal labor shortages.  The visa holders are expected to be paid a prevailing wage so that their labor does not undercut wages of American workers seeking employment.  

A description of the lawsuit via Fox 9 KMSP:

According to the lawsuit, Midwest Rides forced the men and women to work twice as long as promised without paying them for the extra work — with minimal breaks for resting, eating, or showering. The suit describes workers’ trailers as “dirty and in rancid conditions” with no air conditioning or functioning windows, and says “up to 50 workers shared one or two portable toilets.

Our allegation is that this employer took advantage of [laws] to circumvent the law, to treat people like animals, make them work ungodly hours, and for little pay,” David Wilson, one of the workers’ attorneys, told Fox 9. The workers are represented by attorneys at Wilson Law Group in Minneapolis.

The lawsuit does not allege knowledge of the violations by the fairs who contracted Midwest Rides.  Officials from the Minnesota State Fair confirmed to Fox 9 that the company had run the Ferris Wheel in the “kidway” since 2010.  

On top of the labor violations, the lawsuit alleges that multiple safety concerns were ignored by the company and that workers who brought attention to the concerns faced severe retaliation:

The lawsuit also raises safety concerns, including the allegation the company ordered a worker to drive “commercial vehicles used to transport rides and other fair equipment” even though the worker did not have an American driver’s license or commercial license. Additionally, Wilson told Fox 9 workers received minimal training before operating the rides.

“There are instances when some of the plaintiffs would say ‘I think something is wrong with the machine’ and try to communicate it, and were just berated for speaking up. And told go back to the machine,” Wilson told Fox 9, and also noted that the workers were not suing for safety violations and that the machines were inspected, “the people operating the rides took it seriously. They were parents, they had children.”

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