Stranded Mexican workers file suit
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” About 65 Mexican citizens took legal action Thursday, demanding a total of more than $177,000 from companies they say brought them from Mexico to Glenwood Springs with the promise of work they never got.
Glenwood Springs attorney Don Kaufman filed the lawsuit for the workers free of charge. He said they had no money and no way to seek justice on their own.
“Normally these guys kind of blow away,” he said. “They come in twos and threes, become illegal or disappear. We’ve never seen a situation where so many people were disenfranchised at one time.”
The workers said they traveled from Mexico in hopes of working over Christmas to save money for their families. They arrived at the end of November and ended up in limbo at local hotels after not getting jobs they were contracted to do. All but about 10 left on Dec. 21 on buses sent by JNS Construction Services LLC.
As they were being sent home with no work, several said they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to repay loans they’d taken to get here. One man said they came here with nothing in their pocket but lies about the jobs.
Kaufman said the immigration debate is separate from this unfair treatment of legal workers.
“These are not the guys who jumped the border unlawfully,” he said. “These are the guys who stood in line, played by the rules and did everything legally.”
According to the complaint, all 65 men came to the U.S. with valid Mexican passports, identification and class H2B visas to work for the Texas-based JNS. JNS transports laborers from Mexico and gets them contract jobs. JNS said it contracted with Midwest Drywall Co. Both companies are named in the complaint, as well as Leno and Co. LLC. The complaint says Leno’s role was to organize the men, and JNS obtained visas for each of them.
Each plaintiff paid at least $650 to get to the U.S. with the promise of employment, Kaufman says, and they’re owed a total of $177,450 for lost wages plus other damages. The complaint says the men were each promised $910 per week for three weeks.
Denis Dieker, treasurer for Midwest, said, “What we see is JNS fraudulently used our name when they applied for visas for these guys. … We had asked for workers from JNS for another project earlier in the year, and they never delivered on those workers. We never asked for workers after that on the project they are talking about.”
The workers turned to Catholic Charities after getting stuck in Glenwood Springs with no work and hearing the organization might help. That led them to Kaufman.
John Herzor, who’s named in the lawsuit as a principal owner of JNS Construction, said previously he made a cash offer to the men and sent two buses for them to take them home. He hung up the phone after that statement and didn’t return a phone message Friday afternoon.
Tom Ziemann, director of Catholic Charities, said the cash offer was for $690. Some men received only $200 and others received none at all.
“I’m happy that Don is seeing this through,” Ziemann said. “We’re trying to seek justice for these 65 men.”
According to Ziemann, 10 men stayed and became illegal out of desperation.
“They tried to stay, play by the rules, and things didn’t work out,” he said.
The Mexican Consulate said it had attorneys looking into the situation. Kaufman said the Mexican government hired an attorney to help keep him in contact with the men, who are ready and willing to travel back to the U.S. to testify if need be.
“If we were to prevail, if somehow it were to become profitable to stop trafficking human beings, maybe people would stop doing it,” he said.
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