The Southern Poverty Law Center contends that the owners of Culpepper Enterprises in Collins, and North American Labor Services in Pascagoula, conspired to exploit Mexican immigrant workers. Attorney Sarah Rich says North American recruited seven guest workers to Mississippi, on behalf of Culpepper between 2012 and 2014. They were hired to landscape state roads under a contract with the Department of Transportation. Rich says instead of Culpepper paying the guest workers up to $11.00 per hour, which is what they told the government, the company paid them $7.25.
"In order to do this, these companies had to tell the government that they were going to pay the workers a certain wage. The government requires them to do that, so that the foreign workers will not depress the wages of local workers," said Rich.
Rich says the companies broke federal racketeering laws by working together to exploit the immigrants. The claim amends a federal lawsuit filed by SPLC in June, on behalf of the workers, in which Culpepper is accused of over charging them for housing and illegal fees for equipment. Bill Chandler with the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance says the Department of Labor allows employers who say they cannot fill positions locally, to recruit seasonal workers from other countries, under the Guest Worker Program. He says it's abused and should be abolished.
"We think that employers should use American workers first and if they need people they can bring people in with green cards from other countries, where they can be on the job and be treated as equals with their co-workers," said Chandler.
Sarah Rich says Culpepper Enterprises received more than nine million dollars in state contracts.