Workers from Mexico accuse Newport farm of labor violations

Workers from Mexico accuse Newport farm of labor violations

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GREENEVILLE (WATE) - Fifteen workers from Mexico have filed a lawsuit against a Newport tomato farm alleging violations of federal and state civil rights and labor laws.

The lawsuit against Fish Farms was filed Tuesday in federal court in Greeneville.

Fish Farms brought the workers to Tennessee in 2010 through the federal government's guest worker program.

The workers claim that Fish Farms subjected them to inhumane working conditions, including repeatedly exposing them to pesticides.

The lawsuit maintains that Fish Farms housed workers in overcrowded trailers, failed to provide potable water and required them to wash their clothes in a nearby river.

The workers claim that Fish Farms sprayed pesticides close to their living quarters and in the fields while they worked.

After the workers complained to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Labor, a farm manager allegedly accused a worker of aggravated assault and had him arrested in front of the other workers.

Other Fish Farms' supervisors surrounded the workers' housing brandishing firearms during the incident, the lawsuit says.

The charges against the worker were later dropped.

Two weeks later, the lawsuit says the workers tried to record their pesticide exposure on cell phone video.

However, Fish Farms managers are accused of raiding the workers' housing, yelling racial slurs, kicking in a door and taking phones from some workers.

The lawsuit claims that Fish Farms fired the workers, detained them for many hours on a bus, and carried out "a private deportation" by insisting they return to Mexico.

Officials with the Department of Labor confirm that they are investigating Fish Farms.

The lawsuit was filed on the workers' behalf by Chicago-based law firm Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym and a non-profit group called Southern Migrant Legal Services.

The non-profit provides free legal services to migrant and seasonal farm workers in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

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