NEW BEDFORD- Immigrant temp workers who have been a legal battle against Employment on Demand Agency Inc. (EDA), a temp agency, had a big day on Tuesday at Bristol County Superior Court.

During the final settlement hearing of their class action lawsuit against EDA, the immigrant workers held a rally against unlawful treatment and wage theft to draw attention to the temp agency’s alleged treatment of their employees.

The workers and their attorneys from Justice at Work, a legal group dedicated to providing strategic workplace-related legal services to immigrant workers, are accusing the temp agency of overtime wage theft and workplace mistreatment of its immigrant employees working across 17 different seafood companies in the state. They say that these employees haven’t received the appropriate amount of overtime pay from EDA, and accuse the agency of conducting a scheme to get out of it.

This was allegedly done by sending the workers to multiple seafood distribution companies throughout the week and moving them to different distributors before they could complete 40-hours at one establishment. EDA then would deny overtime pay to these employees, claiming that they did not work 40-hours or more at a single seafood distributor and that the overall amount of time worked for the agency is not applicable to overtime.

The rally featured around 15 immigrant workers filing suit against the temp agency who shared their stories of their mistreatment by EDA and the seafood companies they worked for. Sabrina Vasquez spoke about her experience working at American Red Crab through the temp agency, and spoke of the discrimination she experienced there on top of her wage theft.

“As a worker there I suffered many injustices, much bad treatment, and discrimination. Often times we’d be put to do work that we hadn’t been trained in, that we’ve never done before and the bosses would be very aggressive with us. They would yell at us when we didn’t know how to do a job we had just gotten, and there was a lot of discriminatory treatment,” said Vasquez.

Jose Palma, the Legal Program Coordinator for Justice at Work, spoke at the rally before heading into the courthouse for the hearing. He told the crowd of the motivation Justice at Work has to help out immigrant workers across the state. He also spoke out against companies that dodge the responsibility of paying the extra overhead costs to cover these workers.

“As we are hearing today companies regularly hide behind temp agencies and sub-contractors and do whatever they can to avoid responsibilities. Palma said. “That means that even when there clear legal violations it is tough for workers to get justice. We believe that is not right, and that’s why we are happy to be working in partnership with worker centers and justice of workers, and are happy to continue this collaboration.”

Steve Churchill, an attorney working for Justice at Work who represented the immigrant workers, interrupted the rally to deliver the verdict of the final settlement hearing against EDA. The attorney announced a victory in favor of the workers, who would be receiving all of their missed pay from the agency by way of an approved court settlement.

“The workers in this case who were not paid overtime as they should have been, and filed a request for payment will now get paid,” Churchill announced to an elated crowd.

Attorney Steve Churchill before heading into Bristol County Superior Court for the final settlement hearing against EDA. Tim Dunn/TSM
Attorney Steve Churchill before heading into Bristol County Superior Court for the final settlement hearing against EDA. Tim Dunn/TSM

The attorney followed up his announcement by explaining the importance of establishing stronger laws to protect employees and of what he says is the necessary collaboration between lawyers and establishments representing workers like these.

“One thing I want to say is how this case demonstrates two things that are really critical to ensure that workers are treated fairly in the workplace,” Churchill said.

“The first thing is that it’s essential that we have strong laws in Massachusetts to protect workers, because it’s those laws that allow us to reach settlements like we reached today. The second thing is this case demonstrates well how important it is to have collaboration between workers and worker centers and lawyers to ensure these laws are aggressively enforced” he said.

The demonstrators at the rally held up signs admonishing EDA and the 17 seafood companies involved in wage theft and the mistreatment of its immigrant employees. The rally was dispersed following the announcement of the result of the hearing from attorney Steve Churchill.

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