A shellfish processing plant in Louisiana. (Photo: Stock File)
Undocumented workers in Louisiana's seafood industry struggle against labour abuse
Saturday, October 13, 2018, 00:40 (GMT + 9)
Louisiana's undocumented seafood workers have decided to join efforts to combat work´place abuse in a USD 2 billion-a-year industry.
Organised under the banner of the Seafood Workers Alliance, these guest workers are struggling to push back against sexual harassment, dangerous working conditions and other abuses, The Guardian reported.
This newspaper informed that many recently-arrived guest workers find themselves in rural isolated parts of Louisiana where fear of law enforcement is compounded by the belief that police brutality against undocumented workers is commonplace. In many rural municipalities, the owners of large seafood processing companies often know the police on a personal level and workers live with the fear of owners calling the police to have them deported if they cause trouble.
“The company has all the power, but with organizing, we are going to attack their power,” said Jesus Andres, president of the Seafood Workers Alliance.
Formed in 2017 as an offshoot of organizing being done by the National Guestworker Alliance and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice the Seafood Workers Alliance has hundreds of members in 15 different plants throughout Louisiana.
The organization has focused heavily on suing employers and building alliances with local communities so that workers can help push back when they face abuses in the workplace.
They have built deep ties in particular with the African American community. Often, low wage employers have attempted to pit low wage African American workers against Latino workers, who many saw as coming to Louisiana to take their jobs.
Through combined struggle, the workers have learned that, while their struggles are different, their problems both with local employers and enforcement are similar.
As a result of the growing solidarity and power of the Seafood Workers Alliance, the workers have been able to win the reinstatement of over a dozen workers who feared they would be blacklisted; creating a sense of momentum. In March, the union successfully won the reinstatement of seven workers at D&G Frey Crawfish in Iota, Louisiana.
At the catfish plant in Guidry’s Catfish in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, many were fearful that Andres would not be allowed to come back for another season after he laid out a campaign to raise wages at the plant from USD 9 an hour to USD 12 an hour.
However, in March, Andres and his co-workers organized and forced their employer to agree to bring him back. This win, on the heels of winning other reinstatements, has given workers a new sense of power. Andres says that now he sees more and more of his co-workers overcoming their fears and putting pressure on the boss to improve their workplace.
“Through the Seafood Workers Alliance, we have learned how to assert our rights and take on the boss and its changed so much,” said Andres.