In the bayous of Louisiana, fear is running high for the thousands of guest workers that staff the state’s $2bn a year seafood industry.
Seafood work is so dangerous that workers often lose fingers and suffer debilitating carpal tunnel injuries on the industry’s high-speed assembly lines. Many Latinas working in the industry endure sexual harassment at the hand of white southerners.
“They stay quiet about [the harassment] because they know that the owner won’t bring them back if they speak up,” says Julia, who wished to use only her first name.
Worse, many recently-arrived guest workers find themselves in rural isolated parts of Louisiana where fear of law enforcement is compounded by the belief that police brutality against undocumented workers is commonplace. In many rural municipalities, the owners of large seafood processing companies often know the police on a personal level and workers live with the fear of owners calling the police to have them deported if they cause trouble.
In 2012, when the National Guestworker Alliance tried to organize seafood workers, the owner of crawfish supplier CJ’s Seafood even threatened workers with violence if they spoke up about poor conditions including sometimes locking workers in the plant and forcing them to work 24 hours straight to meet demand.
Now seafood workers in Louisiana are beginning to lose that fear as they organize under the banner of the Seafood Workers Alliance. “The company has all the power, but with organizing, we are going to attack their power,” said Jesus Andres, president of the Seafood Workers Alliance.
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