The Trans Bay Steel, Inc. of Napa and Los Angeles, California was fined $1 million for slavery and human trafficking. In the suit, the EEOC alleged that 48 Thai welders were exploited and discriminated against due to their national origin. The EEOC took the allegations one step farther, arguing that Trans Bay was actually guilty of slavery and human trafficking. Eventually, the judge agreed.
Sadly, a number of companies have been accused of discrimination recently—but few have been charged with slavery or human trafficking. When the EEOC receives a complaint of discrimination, they launch a full investigation. Only if the investigation turns up evidence of wrongdoing, does the EEOC file a suit. Not surprisingly, most companies choose to settle out of court, rather than fight the lawsuit.
Officials at Trans Bay probably wish that they had settled with the EEOC, but they fought the charges…and lost.
Trans Bay had obtained H2B visas for the employees through a third party agency. The EEOC charged that the employees were held against their will. Their passports were confiscated and their movements were restricted. The employees were forced to work without pay. In addition, some were confined to cramped apartments without electricity, water or gas.
At least 17 of the workers were told that if they attempted to leave, the police and immigration officials would arrest them. The EEOC contends that all the workers were forced to pay enormous fees to the recruiting company, which effectively kept them in involuntary servitude.
Eventually some of the workers escaped the slave-like conditions and were able to alert authorities.
The men were working to retrofit the Bay Bridge under a sub-contract won by Trans Bay, Inc. Trans Bay contracted with Kota Manpower Co. to bring skilled workers from Thailand. Eventually, 9 of the 48 workers were employed by Trans Bay. The remaining workers were forced to work without pay in Los Angles and Long Beach, in Thai restaurants owned by Kota Manpower. Some were also forced to work other menial jobs without pay.
“The issues of human trafficking and slavery are an enforcement priority for the Commission,” said Anna Y. Park, Regional Attorney in EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, which has jurisdiction for the southern half of California. “The EEOC is committed to the protection of all workers, particularly those most vulnerable in our society. The workers in this case sought out the American dream, but instead faced a nightmare.”
After an extensive investigation, the EEOC won the suit against Trans Bay and was awarded up to $1 million. This award includes a monetary payment to each worker, with guaranteed employment on the Bay Bridge Project. The company also agreed to provide a housing stipend for workers.
In one of the most comprehensive awards in recent history, the company is required to pay the workers relocation expenses to Napa, California. They will also train and certify the workers as welders.
The company will also pay for tuition and books at a local college for the unskilled workers to train as welders. The company agreed to guarantee minimum pay and a base pay once the claimants complete their training period.
The judgment for the U.S. EEOC vs. Trans Bay Steel, Inc. includes continued monitoring by the EEOC, training of Trans Bay employees on anti-discrimination laws, changes to Trans Bay’s policies and procedures, and developing a company-wide complaint procedure.
EEOC Los Angeles District Director Olophius E. Perry said, “Through the cooperative efforts between the federal government and non-profit organizations, a just resolution was reached that is a win/win for the workers and for the employer.”
The EEOC worked closely with non-profit organizations such as the Thai Community Development Center, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
In California, the state labor law on new employee hire reporting has set up what is called the New Employee Registry. This is a simple list that the state uses to compare their information against the National Directory of New Hires, in order to catch parents who are running from their child support payment.
Here’s an interesting fact for why the labor law must be set up this way— about one in three parents who do not pay their child support payments do not live in the same state as their child. Hence, there is this need to cross compare all of the new hire information coming from all of the states, thanks to the federal change in the employee hiring labor law.
The labor law in California also makes it required, since the start of 2001, that employers and government agencies report information on the independent contractors that they hire too. That way, they are using an even finer tooth comb to track parents who aren’t making payments, via the New Employee Registry.
As with other states that follow the general guidelines set up by the federal labor law, the California new hire reporting regulations require that employers send in the information on their new hires within 20 days. But California makes it so it is 20 days after the actual start of work of the employee, meaning the first day that the employee actually starts work, compared with the day that the person was hired.
Under the Cali labor law, you can also choose which state to report all of your new hires in if you are a multistate employer. In that case, you can report all your new employees—no matter what state they are hired in—to just one state that you have an office in. That makes it easier on your human resource administrators to get all of the new hire forms together.