Monday, August 16, 2010

Indentured Servitude via TDOT Part 2

The Vanderbilt Landscaping company, awarded contracts by the Tennessee Dept of Transportation using money from the federal Stimulus programs and other programs, accused of making legal migrant workers live and work in vile conditions akin to indentured servitude has offered a response to the claims (original post here and on KnoxViews).

Channel 5 News reports:

Joffery and Larry Vanderbilt said they could not believe the accusations when Hilario Jimenez and a group of protesters from the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice started protesting outside the company Thursday.

"All the allegations that they were stirring up were just -- it was crazy," said Larry Vanderbilt

They believe Jimenez was trying to retaliate for discipline he received at the end of June.

Vanderbilt Landscaping employs 60 people. The company has several contracts with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to cut grass along highways and interstates.

The H-2B program lets American companies bring people into the country as guest workers if they can't find Americans to fill the jobs.

Jimenez was one of them. Among his accusations -- Vanderbilt Landscaping doesn't pay overtime.

"Hilario made $12.33 an hour. We always pay our guys time and a half, and time and a half equals $18 and something cents an hour," Joffery Vanderbilt said.

The Vanderbilt's showed us Jimenez's last paycheck showing three hours of overtime. They also showed us a payroll journal showing how much he made.

The Vanderbilt's said workers get half hour lunches and two 15 minute breaks in addition to other breaks when they get too hot. As far as the accusation of working at gunpoint, the Vanderbilt's said that too is totally false.

"That is all false. None of us carry guns. That is false," Joffery said.

A Nashville Union leader also brought up the issue of taking jobs from American workers. The Vanderbilt's said they ran ads in newspapers in Nashville and Memphis for three weeks. They said they did 70 interviews, and said most of the applicants decided the work was too hard."

So not one, not one of the applicants accepted the job offered? That seems a real stretch of the imagination, and the firm got numerous contracts from TDOT and more money by claiming no one save migrant workers would take the jobs.

What you have to understand is that the U.S. guest worker program binds workers to one employer. That means that no matter how badly a company mistreats a guest worker, he or she can't leave to work for anyone else. If they do, they can be arrested and deported back home, where they face crushing debt.

The other thing you have to understand is that Vanderbilt Landscaping got the guest worker visas by claiming to the U.S. Department of Labor that it could not find a single American worker to fill these landscaping jobs. I know a few that would have been interested, but neither Vanderbilt nor the Department of Labor ever gave me a call.

Hiring exploitable guest workers and locking U.S. workers out of jobs let Vanderbilt undercut the competition, and they won $2.48 million in state landscaping contracts paid for with our tax dollars. On top of that, Vanderbilt got $900,000 in guaranteed loans through the federal stimulus program. And instead of putting all that money toward good jobs for struggling Tennesseans, they locked American workers out and locked legal guest workers in.

Why has TDOT not responded to these allegations, or the State of TN? Though complaints have been filed, how long until an actual investigation occurs?

Southern Beale is on the story.

So is Coyote Chronicles.


  1. emmett12:09 PM

    just got word from my wife that this had happened. Let me state that I am the brother in law of both owners of Vanderbilt Landscaping. The Vanderbilts have NEVER treated ANY employee wrong. You people need to talk to Juan. When Juan broke his back it was like a friend of the family was in the hospital. When "Big" Larry had us all down to Mason, TN for a bbq EVERYONE ate at the same table. ANYBODY that showed up for work and did a good job got paid...period. One guy is lodging a complaint that is just not true. Ask the guys that have been there for years.

  2. I know they are not related to Vanderbilt University but I just love the irony that they are named Vanderbilt. It carried that whole "robber baron" stench to it.