By Ashleen Herrarte
CARLETON, MI – A lawsuit was formally ended in the Michigan federal court following two settlements between a greenhouse employer and migrant workers who claimed they were not paid by the employer who then conspired with ICE to lure them into an immigration raid in a Walmart parking lot.
Six migrant workers from Mexico who traveled to Monroe County on work visas filed a lawsuit against a Carleton greenhouse called Four Star Greenhouse, Inc., after the company allegedly forced the men to work for months without pay and then helped with their deportation.
Four Star Greenhouse, Inc., is a Michigan domestic corporation that sold finished crops and young plants throughout the US. to retail growers, wholesale growers, garden retailers, and professional landscapers.
The corporation is the top superior of Proven Winners and the brand is described on its website as a “breakthrough brand” in the horticultural industry. Four Star Greenhouse employs more than 100 employees yearly and annually generates more than $18 million.
The workers were hired to work at the Four Star nursery through a third party. Eduardo Reyes-Trujillo, Gerardo Santiago-Hernandez, Santos Bruno-Cruz, Pablo Mateo-Velazquez, Andres Ponciano-Serna and Miguel Angel Martinez-Barragan were the Plaintiffs. They lived in migrant housing units at the Chestnut Hills Apartments
The defendant company was being accused of knowingly benefiting from retaliation and labor trafficking.
After being employed from December 2017 to June 2018 the workers had been promised visa renewals but were deported to Mexico before receiving their paycheck, according to the suit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
The workers were represented by Centro de Los Derechos del Migrante (CDM), Inc., Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan, and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC).
Anna Hill, MIRC Attorney said, “these workers gave hundreds of hours of their labor under false promises that they would be paid, lies about their visas, and threats of their future job opportunities. Despite facing retaliation, they have continued to bravely come forward, for themselves, and so many other workers who deserve justice.”
According to the lawsuit, Four Star allegedly had complete authority over the men throughout their workday including scheduling, supervising, and timekeeping. Their responsibilities included ticketing, transporting, packing plants for shipment as well as building boxes, sweeping and trimming plants, according to the lawsuit.
When first hired, the men did not receive a copy of their work contract or the written terms of the condition of their employment and were often required to work 60 hours per week, said the court pleading.
Workers were supposed to be paid $12.75 per hour on a weekly basis but were not paid consistently or even at all. Many times checks that were paid reportedly bounced and the workers rarely received their check stubs, the lawsuit alleged.
One of the workers, Santiago-Hernandez stated, “We received so many false promises. It shouldn’t be possible for us to work so hard and not get paid as one should—for me, that is corruption.”
In 2017, the workers’ H-2A visas expired, a program that was for temporary agricultural workers mandated to continue working even though their visas hadn’t been renewed. According to the lawsuit they were still not being paid during this time.
After receiving multiple complaints about non-payment, Four Star’s agent reportedly took the workers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials who were waiting for them in a Walmart parking lot.
After being in the Michigan immigration detention facility, the men paid hundreds of dollars to be able to return to Mexico. according to reports.
Worker Reyes-Trujillo said “It’s not fair. It’s unjust for us to travel so far—and then for our employers to fail to fulfill their promises to us, not pay us, and retaliate against us.”
The company’s attorney said, “Four Star’s Greenhouse’s success is the product of the excellent work performed by our employees and contracted workers. We are dedicated to complying with applicable laws, rules, and regulations. We take the allegations made by former contracted workers very seriously and find it particularly disturbing that anyone would allege that Four Star withheld payments, threatened contracted workers, attempted or was involved in any way with deporting any individual who worked at its facility.”
Terms of the settlement that ended the federal suit were not disclosed.