Almost 100 Indian guest workers at a Mississippi shipyard stormed off from their jobs one day earlier this month, claiming their employer had treated them like slaves.
Now the group is suing the company and marching from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., to demand a meeting with the Indian ambassador.
The men were part of a group of 500 Indians who were brought into the United States after Hurricane Katrina to work as welders and pipe fitters for Signal International, a company that makes marine oil platforms and other equipment in Mississippi and Texas.
The company housed them in trailers where 24 men shared a room, paying $1,050 in rent, India-West reported.
According to the Web site of the AFL-CIO, the workers say they were also pressured into paying other fees by Signal and forced to live like “pigs in a cage.”
The workers also accused Signal of “human trafficking,” according to the AFL-CIO.
Signal has refuted the charges, saying the workers’ living conditions were adequate.
According to India-West, the men said they had paid $15,000 or more to Signal-affiliated recruiting firms in Mumbai after being told they would receive permanent residency in the United States.
Instead, they say, they received 10-month work permits and were threatened with losing their passports if they did not sign contracts.
The men also claim the Indian government refused their requests for help.
“The government celebrates NRIs (non-resident Indians) and is able to build airports on their remittances but turns its back on them when they expose the ugly reality of immigrant life in the U.S.,” New Orleans labor activist Saket Soni told India-West.
“Another protest by Indian workers in foreign land”
Newstrack India, March 8, 2008
“Indian Workers Say They’re Treated Like Slaves at Mississippi Shipyard”
AFL-CIO Now Blog, March 22, 2008
“Shipyard Workers Begin Satyagraha to Washington”
India West, March 20, 2008
“Shipyard Workers’ Lawsuit Alleges Employer Slavery”
India West, March 13, 2008