Recently, U.S. jurors found Signal International liable for labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and one case of false imprisonment and settled $20 million for 11 claims in three states from guest workers.
The labor trafficking lawsuit was brought by several guest workers after Signal International brought the workers to several of their sites along the Gulf Coast from 2006 to 2007. These men were trained welders and pipefitters from India brought to the U.S. to repair oil rigs that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina. The men claim that they were brought here under the assumption that they would receive green cards. Not only did none of them receive green cards, but they were also forced to live in squalor in guarded camps. The labor trafficking lawsuit claims that the workers were even forced to pay $35 to stay in the camps and that workers were detained if they complained.
In court, Signal International claimed that the blame was on the recruiting firm they hired to find workers; the jurors disagreed. The American Civil Liberties Union represented over 200 workers in the proceedings and said that the settlement was the largest a jury has ever awarded in a labor-trafficking case. Signal International, however, filed for bankruptcy the day before the settlement was reached. The settlement is pending approval by a bankruptcy court.
The jury’s verdict proved that legal status has no relevance in settlement decisions.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, labor trafficking is a “form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” California is ranked first for labor trafficking violations, which can include forced or involuntary labor, debt bondage, and inhumane conditions. Traffickers use several different types of coercion, including violence and threats. Trafficking can occur in many industries, including domestic service, farms, and factories. Migrant and illegal workers are particularly vulnerable to labor trafficking and coercion.
Source: Los Angeles Times, 14 July 2015.