Thursday, April 08, 2010

Peruvian Sheepherders File Lawsuit Against Ranch

*Picture from CLS's Migrant Farm Worker Division

From the Denver Post

Two Peruvian sheepherders who left a Craig ranch with only the clothes on their backs filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday saying they were abused by ranchers with a 20-year record of federal labor complaints.

John Peroulis & Sons Sheep Inc., Louis Peroulis, Stanley Peroulis and Crisologo Damian — a recruiter of workers for the ranch — are named in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver.

Roel Espejo, 25, and Juvencio Samaniego, 32, are experienced sheepherders who participated in the federal H-2A visa program, which allows foreign workers to come to the U.S. for temporary agricultural work.

Espejo arrived in Colorado in March 2009, and Samaniego came in June with the promise of a $750 monthly salary, a camper to sleep in and food provided by their employer.

While both men worked on the Peroulis ranch in Colorado, they did not know each other because they were there at different times that year.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Jennifer Lee of Colorado Legal Services, says each man paid Damian thousands of dollars in recruitment and travel fees to come to the U.S., fees prohibited in the H-2A program.

The men claim Stanley Peroulis confiscated their passports and visas so they couldn't leave the ranch. Much of the time, they were hungry because they didn't have enough food, the suit says.
"The workers we meet are very much about working hard, and they take pride in how they work," said Lee, who litigates cases involving migrant farmworkers. "They don't expect amazing conditions, but they expect to be treated fairly."

Stanley and Louis Peroulis did not return a call seeking comment.

Both men are accused of verbally abusing the sheepherders and not allowing them to take more than 15 minutes to eat or to read books. The suit claims Stanley Peroulis knew about the recruitment fee that the workers paid to get to the U.S.

The lawsuit accuses Louis Peroulis of kicking a sheep and hitting a horse with a plank of wood when he was in a rage over the performance of his workers.

Samaniego says he was beaten.

In July, Samaniego left the ranch and walked for 10 hours until he came across help. In November, Espejo walked two hours on a highway in order to get away from the ranch, and police officers took him to a hotel for the night.

Lee filed the lawsuit after she was made aware of the workers' complaints by the Peruvian Consulate. The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the complaints.

In 2000, the Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Peroulis & Sons alleging similar complaints of worker abuse.

Peroulis & Sons settled the case without admitting wrongdoing but had to produce a handbook on proper working conditions made available to workers and prohibit acts of workplace violence.

As early as 1990, the Department of Labor levied fines against the Peroulis ranch for mistreatment of immigrant workers, according to a 2000 Denver Post story.

In September 2000, federal agents, including some from the FBI, raided the ranch but criminal charges were not filed.

Felisa Cardona: 303-954-1219 or

Yet another case highlighting the broken system of our H-2A guestworker program here in the U.S. The laws guiding the program look good on paper - for example, H2A workers are not supposed to pay recruitment and transportation fees. As the article points out, however, in this case and in other cases, guestworkers have been forced to pay these fees to the tune of thousands of dollars. With immigration reform about to come to the table again, hopefully a comprehensive model will pass that incorporates better oversight of the H-2A and H-2B programs so as to prevent these abuses and help prevent cases of human trafficking (this particular case does include TVPRA claims). I mention oversight specifically because the program already has some protections and benefits on paper (establishes wage rates, worker protection, safety and health standards, etc.), but a lack of oversight leaves these workers extremely vulnerable to abuse. Close to Slavery by the Southern Poverty Law Center is worth a read if you want to learn more about how vulnerable guestworkers really are. Colorado Legal Services also produced a report called Overworked and Underpaid: H-2A Herders in Colorado.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:23 AM

    You have got to be kidding me. Alegedly kicking a sheep and hitting a horse with a plank of wood! Do u people have absolutely nothing to do with your time, this country is becoming embarasing!O and not to mention hired hand said he was beatin! You better get to investigating the details on this incident and start with the two hired hands who are here making more money than they ever would anywhere else. They are hired on the ranch to work and work only not read books and have free time when they choose. Ask the tax paying citizens of the United States of America what they think about this. All of this is a scam to get out of work because they couldnt hack it,plain and simple! They want a free ride and want to see if they can get something out of this whole deal. Exercising their so called rights they have in the USA. The Peroulis family is one of the strongest and well known hard working families i have ever heard or the pleasure to be around. The Peroulises with out any doubt dont abuse anyone or any of their livestock. they love what they do and its their livliehood. They dont ever do anything to jeopardise what they have and most important their name. In short the matter that needs questioning is the character of the acusers which holds absolutely no merrit whatsoever!