February 21, 2013
Taken for a Ride: Migrant Workers in the U.S. Fair and Carnival Industry
Families across the United States remember with nostalgia the food, rides, and atmosphere of the local fairs and carnivals, but hidden behind the memories and bright lights are migrant workers who pay a high price to create these experiences. On the United Nations World Day of Social Justice, the American University Washington College of Law Immigrant Justice Clinic and Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM) released a report, Taken for a Ride: Migrant Workers in the U.S. Fair and Carnival Industry, that describes the abuses of migrant workers who form the backbone of one of America's favorite pastimes.
The information for the report was gathered using in-depth interviews of migrant fair and carnival workers. Fair and carnival companies bring migrant workers to the U.S. on temporary work visas, known as H-2B visas, to build and operate rides, set up games and serve food at concessions stands. The workers travel with the companies from state to state, typically living in filthy and cramped trailers.
Taken for a Ride uncovers the following abuses and structural defects in the H-2B temporary worker program:
unfair recruitment processes;
wage and hour abuses;
significant health and safety risks;
lack of access to workers' compensation;
limited access to medical care;
isolated and substandard living conditions; and
limited access to legal representation and justice in the courts.
To mitigate these problems, the report recommends that Congress enact retaliation protections for workers who report abuse, extend federally-funded legal services to H-2B workers, close the minimum and overtime wage loophole for amusement industries in federal labor laws, and require that job orders be treated as enforceable contracts. The Department of Labor should forbid employers, recruiters and their agents from charging recruitment fees, conduct inspections of fair employers payroll, and issue rules related to training, breaks and safety equipment to protect the health and safety of fair and carnival workers and the public. The experiences documented by workers in Taken for a Ride are similar to those of H-2B workers in other industries and demonstrate the structural flaws in the H-2B program, despite attempts to improve the program through recent regulations.
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