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Guest-workers from Mexico say they are facing slave-like conditions in a Louisiana plant, C.J.'s Seafood, which is part of the Walmart/Sam's Club Supply Chain.

Mexican guest-workers have exposed forced labor on Walmart's Louisiana supply chain; community and labor allies. (photo: National Guestworkers Alliance)
Mexican guest-workers have exposed forced labor on Walmart's Louisiana supply chain; community and labor allies. (photo: National Guestworkers Alliance)

Workers for Walmart: 'We Feel Like We Are Slaves'

By Ada McMahon, Bridge the Gulf

21 June 12


or most people in Louisiana, cracking the shell off a crawfish, sucking the head, and swallowing the tail meat is a joyous part of what it means to call this place home. But peeling crawfish is not so fun for guestworkers from Mexico, who allege that they are facing slave-like conditions in a Louisiana plant.

Eight striking guestworkers, who say they are sometimes forced to peel and boil crawfish for up to 24 hours straight without overtime pay, outlined the alleged abuses in a rally outside of a Sam's Club in Metairie on Wednesday, June 6th. That same day, they filed complaints with the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against their employer, C.J.’s Seafood of Breaux Bridge, La., on behalf of the forty guest workers employed there. C.J.’s Seafood sells an estimated 85% of its crawfish to Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, and owner of Sam's Club.

The workers cited abusive treatment from Michael Leblanc, the general manager of C.J.'s Seafood. Leblanc is also head of the Crawfish Processors Alliance, which is fighting the Department of Labor's recent efforts to improve pay for H-2B guestworkers. Leblanc could not be reached for comment. reported that a Sam's Club spokesperson said in an email that the company was investigating the allegations.

Alleged Abuses in the Walmart Supply Chain

The workers, who went on strike Monday, June 4th, are asking Walmart to end forced labor at C.J.'s Seafood, to cooperate in a public investigation, adopt industry standards, and protect the workers whose families were allegedly threatened for organizing. As eight striking workers and a handful of their supporters tried to deliver a letter outlining those demands, Sam's Club employees blocked the entrance, refused to accept the letter, and called the police.

"We're not here to blame Walmart. We know it's C.J.'s Seafood that committed the violations. But they sold their crawfish to you and you made your profits," Saket Soni, director of the National Guestworker Alliance and of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, told Sam's Club management as they blocked the doors. "You already have standards, all we want is for you to implement them." He said C.J.'s Seafood violated seven out of 11 of Walmart's own labor standards for their suppliers, and must be called into account.

The rally at Sam's Club was planned by the National Guestworker Alliance, which is helping the C.J.'s Seafood workers organize for their rights and file complaints to the Department of Labor. The NGA grew out of a project of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice.

Guestworkers: "We feel like we are slaves"

The workers are in the United States as guestworkers with H-2B visas, which allow foreign nationals to work temporary non-agricultural jobs if the employer can demonstrate that "there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work" (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services). Forty guestworkers from Mexico work at C.J.'s Seafood peeling and boiling crawfish for five months out of the year, and then return home.

"The salary here is better. But the treatment is worse,"* says Ana Diaz, who has worked at C.J.'s Seafood for eight years. "Can you imagine what it's like to get off work at 5 pm after working for 15 hours and go eat, take a shower, and have only 3 hours to sleep before you have to start all over again?" asks Diaz, a 40-year-old mother of four.

"We put up with this until now because of the pressure that we have to maintain our families back home," explained Fernando Navarro.

"They charge us $45 a week to live in crowded trailers next to the plant. They're very old, the air conditioning doesn't work, and there's rats in the trailers," says Martha Uvalle. "They'll come and wake us up early in the morning and say, 'Well you guys have to work tomorrow, so don't go out.' Even on Saturdays," says Uvalle.

"We feel like we are slaves," adds Silvia Alfaro, who has worked at the plant for five years along with her husband and son.

Daniel Castellanos, who was a guestworker in 2006 and co-founded the National Guestworkers Alliance, where he is currently an organizer, explains that though the H-2B visa provides legal status to foreign workers, it encourages abuse too.

"Sometimes worse [conditions] come with this kind of visa, because you are not free to go to another place. You are tied to one employer… It is very difficult to defeat the fear that you have to organize."

Castellanos says this fight is about more than just the struggles of guestworkers. "It's connected to other struggles, like the day laborers' struggle and the Black people in struggle. It's important to see the big picture, because they are displacing local people for bringing these cheap workers, who without rights are very easy to exploit. We are trying to change that, that is the reason for our strike, our struggle."

*All quotes, except by Soni and Castellanos, were translated from Spanish by Jacob Horwitz of the NGA. your social media marketing partner


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-27 # miltlau 2012-06-21 09:09
Exaggerations are counter-product ive! These are not "Walmart workers". They are not "forced labor". A more accurate highlighting of these abuses would be more effective. As is, it sounds like ranting.
+18 # Vermont Grandma 2012-06-21 11:11
Ranting, mitlau? Starting work at 2 am, working 15 hours to 5 pm, then having only 3 hours before starting work again as DETAILED in this article doesn't sound like a rant to me, but rather abusive work conditions.
The whole H2B visa "program" which ties workers to a particular employer, and exercises no oversight over living conditions, and doesn't seem to enforce wage and hour laws is an obscenity. And it depresses wages for US citizens.
It's hard to believe that this company can't find ANY US citizen workers --- of course that may be because they've been getting away with not following minimum wage and overtime laws.
I know that families in Mexico are suffering financially and depend on relatives who find jobs in the US. However, that isn't an excuse to exploit those folks.
-10 # 2012-06-21 12:27
While I am no fan of our guest worker program and could find many flaws in it, miltlau is still correct. If they don't want the job (and I think the work sounds awful so I wouldn't blame them), they remain free to quit and find other work.

It was slaves inability to quit that made them slaves.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+15 # giraffee2012 2012-06-21 09:35
We KNOW Walmart has immunity from the RATS for "anything goes" ON THEIR employees. When will Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia be impeached from the Supreme Court? They are the basis of all of the problems in USA today.

When will one head roll from the banks? Not as long as the RATS control
+25 # letpeacereign 2012-06-21 10:19
Just one more reason to avoid shopping at Walmart. It seems that the supply chains for many, if not most, of their wares come at great human expense.
+14 # jwb110 2012-06-21 10:58
The workers are in the United States as guestworkers with H-2B visas, which allow foreign nationals to work temporary non-agricultura l jobs if the employer can demonstrate that "there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work" (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services).

There are plenty of Americans who would take those jobs for a living wage and decent treatment. The South has a long history of anti-Union and labor abuse. They should stop their mendacity about all this and give an American a decent job. Gov't is no longer the problem. Business is.
+9 # letpeacereign 2012-06-21 11:49
Business controls government. by buying politicians. We need unions, grass roots movemrnts to take power back away from the oligarchs.
-1 # John Locke 2012-06-21 12:20
Years ago, when I was on the Radio...I attempted to establish a Citizens Union to give Politicians a choice by lobbying, my idea was different, we approach a politician and tell him or her how we want them to vote, but instead of bribing "them", we support their opponent if they go against us! I found no interest...a strong support base for such a union with a voting block would make a difference...
+15 # ABen 2012-06-21 11:15
The Waltons are some of the richest people in the US., treat their workers to very low wages and meager benefits, and firmly back the GOP. Don't shop at Walmart if you can help it;support a locally owned and operated store!
-20 # chirostv 2012-06-21 11:19
If these people feel like slaves they could simply return to Mexico or whereever else they are from and return to actually being slaves. Note: No one is attempting to sneak into Mexico, Ecuador or Guatemala in the dead of night.
0 # fliteshare 2012-06-21 21:38
But at the going rate that might start to happen sooner than later.
+6 # ronnewmexico 2012-06-21 11:22
Do you know how this may actually work...back in the day...of unions and power of unions..

Back in the day perhaps we could frame this.........Wa lmart unionized with union workers..... those affected negatively such as this group of eight goes to the walmart union officials and ask for consideration of their issue. If found substantial management of walmart then is met with by the union to determine if a equitable solution is possible. As in the union affected talks to the teamsters, found true their case, teamsters first negotiate, but then honor their actions and refuse to ship their items.

No walmart union.....demon stration, protest.....not hing quite unfortunately will happen. Our strength is only in our ability to act as a group. Leave out a group such as no real walmart union all falls apart.
We must most of us, unionize for such things as this described to work
+6 # carolsj 2012-06-21 12:00
Congrats to the CJs workers for standing up for decent treatment. This is the basic problem with business and employment. They hire immigrant workers for cheap wages under crappy conditions because they can get away with it. The immigrants are too desperate to complain and have few rights to protect them. They're not taking jobs from Americans because no self-respecting American would stand for such treatment. If the wages and conditions were decent, then they would be employing US citizens.
+8 # grouchy 2012-06-21 12:57
But think of how much profit the business owners in this system are making! And how much money they contribute to the politicians who support such a rotten system! It's The American Way these days.
+12 # DPM 2012-06-21 13:20
How dare anyone speak out against these poor companies! If they have to provide decent conditions and pay, they will not be able to make obscene profits and may have to take their business overseas. Then we will all suffer! Better we all become slaves so we can keep these businesses here, where they belong. After all, we have our pride...right?

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