Migrant workers file lawsuit

BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A federal lawsuit says two Maine businesses, Coastal Blueberry Service and Hancock Foods, exploited migrant workers who worked there.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance filed the suit last week against those companies as well as a farm labor recruiter and several housing providers. The complaint alleges more than 250 separate violations of federal law.

The workers, unable to file the suit themselves because of financial reasons, are Haitian and in the United States legally. They picked blueberries for Coastal Blueberry Service and Hancock Foods in the summer of 2008.

"It's unusual for Pine Tree to file this type of lawsuit," Nan Heald, Pine Tree's executive director, said. "But in this case, what happened to our 18 clients is so terrible that we felt we needed to file the lawsuit, partly to help them recover fairly modest damages that are allowed under the statute, and also just to keep this from happening again."

The lawsuit claims the workers were housed in overcrowded buildings, living on porches and in cars, being driven in overcrowded vans, not paid for time and a half for overtime work, and not provided the amount of work promised. Heald called theese violations horrific.

"It's just not the kind of behavior that we expect in Maine," she said. "We take a lot of pride in our blueberry harvest in our state. And we also I think respect the people who come to Maine and take on what is really hard work raking in the blueberry barrens."

Frank McGuire, the attorney representing the two blueberry companies, says nothing illegal happened.

"Coastal Blueberry Service and Hancock Foods firmly deny having engaged in violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act or authorizing anyone to do so on their behalf, or failing to pay wages earned," he wrote in a statement. "These companies do not mistreat their workers and they work hard to treat all of their workers fairly."

McGuire also said he is still reviewing the 302-page complaint and plans to defend the case vigorously in court.


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