Mexican government steps in for workers stranded in Glenwood
December 22, 2007
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Mexican government has become involved in the situation of around 65 workers who came to the United States legally and say they were denied promised work and adequate payment.
Adriana Valdes, spokeswoman for the Mexican Consulate in Denver, said late Friday afternoon, “At this point we have several lawyers working on this and we will have a more clear picture of what’s going on in the next couple of hours.”
She said the consulate’s protection department is currently focusing all its attention on the case because there are so many people involved. In a statement, the consulate said it will give economic assistance to any of the Mexicans who have no means of returning to their homes.
The men, who turned to Glenwood Springs’ Catholic Charities for help, say they were promised work by the Texas company JNS Construction. JNS sent two buses to take the men back to Mexico Friday morning after the men waited in Glenwood Springs since the end of November.
One bus, marked Hotel Mexicano Bus Lines of Laredo, Texas, slid backwards on the fresh snow, nearly hitting a parked car. That, after failing to make it up a slight grade to the front of the Affordable Inns, where the workers were staying. Drivers cleared snow from the tires and the bus eventually made it up the incline.
Tom Ziemann, director of Catholic Charities, questioned if the buses could even leave on a planned route to Denver without chains while chain restrictions were in effect on Interstate 70 on Vail Pass.
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“I’ve made them a cash offer and I’ve sent the buses for them to come home,” said John Herzor, of JNS Construction. He added that’s all he would say before he hung up the phone abruptly.
Through an interpreter, some of the workers expressed their frustration.
“All we’ve gotten is lies from this individual,” said Federico Gonzales. “He said if we came here on our legal visas, there would be work. He never came. We never got the work we were promised. … I had to get a loan in order to get the visa to come here. My family literally has no money.”
“We came here with nothing in our pockets – only lies,” said Daniel Davila Martinez.
He said he paid $1,200 to get here and would lose his house unless he could somehow come up with a payment.
Juan Gabriel Alejandro Ramirez wondered how he would get from the buses’ planned drop-off point in Monterrey, Mexico, to his home state of Tabasco without any money. He wondered what his wife would think after he spent their money to get here and would return with hardly anything.
“This is a terrible injustice, not only to me but to my family,” Alejandro Ramirez said.
“Every single person here played by the rules and did everything legally,” said Gabriel Martinez Ponce, of Monterrey, Mexico.
Ziemann said the men were promised that about $200 per person would be deposited in bank accounts Friday, and another $490 would come later. But he expressed some skepticism, saying other things that they’ve been told before haven’t been true. JNS had threatened that if the men didn’t get on the bus and go back, they would become illegal by breaching a contract and could be arrested, Ziemann added. He says Catholic Charities is acting as a mediator for the men and is trying to achieve some justice.
Ziemann said all but around 10 of the men eventually boarded the buses headed to Monterrey. The ones remaining plan to meet with consulate representatives Saturday. The consulate said Friday it was concerned about snow and the buses’ lack of chains.
Glenwood Springs attorney Don Kaufman has been working for free with the men and drafted a demand for wages. It states that JNS represented to the government it needed 150 laborers for a project in Avon. They supposedly were to be contracted through the Midwest Drywall Co.
Midwest Drywall Co. claims a statement filed in JNS’ application to the government that Midwest needed the workers at this time is a “forgery,” Kaufman’s demand states. It adds that each worker spent at least $400 to come here for work and that the 65 workers deserve more than $3,000 each for a total of $200,590, according to Colorado and federal law.
“The employees have not been paid any wages. The employees are penniless, almost homeless, and almost incapable of returning to Mexico because of being made destitute by the respondent’s failure to pay wages,” the demand states. Dated Dec. 19, it says some food and lodging were paid for, but that there is a $15,000 outstanding hotel bill and the workers will soon be evicted.
An owner of the Affordable Inns said he did not want to comment or get involved in any way.
The demand alleges that JNS Construction and anyone else involved have “conspired to engage in the speculative state sanctioned human trafficking futures market.”
On Friday, the demand could be viewed at http://www.coloradoattorney.org.