Here we go again…again. Maybe you thought indentured servitude and forced labor were only found in the agricultural sector of our immigration system, but now we have a nurse filing a lawsuit and seeking a class action certification against her employer. This employer is Health Care Facility Management which is doing business and known as CommuniCare Family of Companies. The lawsuit alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), and even the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). They promise the alien workers the American Dream and tell Americans that there is shortage of their fellow citizens willing to work, then the abuse commences.
The lawsuit alleges CommuniCare, a recruiting and staffing company, did not pay overtime and had the nurses working off the clock (wage theft), mandated that employees remain with the company for three years unless they paid the company $16,000, and sued immigrant workers who tried to leave. Here is a quote from the complaint that sums up our legal immigration system for many:
“CommuniCare maintains its scheme of obtaining foreign labor through fraud. It defrauds the United States government which approves the company’s immigrant visa petitions without knowing that it routinely fails to pay its workers the prevailing wage it promises. It defrauds the workers themselves who arrive in the United States and find themselves subjected not only to unexpectedly harsh employment terms and unsafe workplace conditions, but also to several weeks of unpaid employment, contrary to Defendant’s attestations that its immigration-sponsored employees will immediately be put on payroll upon their entrance into the United States.”
Fraud, wage theft, and indentured servitude, oh my! These allegations ring true when you consider all the wage theft, discrimination, child labor, and slavery we have seen of late throughout the immigration landscape. CommuniCare is alleged to have charged its clients more than they were paying the nurses they provided, which ensures the incentive to force nurses to remain on to increase their profit. In this tangled web, another recruiting and staffing company, WorldWide HealthStaff, recruits nurses in the Philippines, and then CommuniCare places them in the United States. According to the complaint, WorldWide HealthStaff has a license in the Philippines to recruit and then CommuniCare takes over from there. It is unclear why CommuniCare, a recruiting company, uses another recruiting company as a middle man. Perhaps being confusing is part of the point when you are allegedly abusing your workforce.
These nurses were recruited under the EB-2 and EB-3 provisions of immigration law. That means they are seeking to immigrate permanently and obtain legal permanent resident status, also known as a “green card.” These are employment-based immigrants, and as such, their sponsors must attest that there are no American workers available for the job. However, the Department of Labor (DOL) has predetermined that some occupations have a shortage, and that includes nurses. So in the case of nurses, the employer does not even have to really try to find American workers before going down the rabbit hole of recruiting companies across the world.
Interestingly, the complaint in this case alleges that once the plaintiff was actually in the United States on July 19, 2022, CommuniCare “benched” her, meaning she did not get a work assignment. So much for the urgency of the shortage of workers! Instead, the plaintiff did not get a work assignment until September 26, 2022, and thus she was not on payroll until that time, even though CommuniCare had to attest to the government that they were ready for her to work when she arrived.
Once she got an assignment the real “fun” began. She was required to take care of between 36 and 39 long-term care elderly patients in her 12-hour shifts, which meant if she took no breaks, she had about 18 minutes per patient for care. The health care facility had no assistants for nurses, so she was also responsible for sanitary cleaning, hygiene, and feeding assistance for patients. The plaintiff describes an unsafe work environment for both her and the poor patients, depending on the medical facility. That medical facility better hope no loved ones of patients are reading this complaint from the nurse who worked there.
Reading the complaint describing the working conditions and the audacity of wage theft in those conditions, I think I have an idea about why they might not be able to find American nurses to take the job. Do we really believe those types of working conditions play no role in the inability to find Americans willing to do the work? No breaks during 12-hour shifts with overwhelming workloads and no overtime pay does not exactly make me anxious to join the exciting field of nursing. No wonder CommuniCare is allegedly trying to force their abused recruits to stay for three years. They certainly are not providing any positive incentives to make them want to stay on the job.
American workers are being accused of an unwillingness to work both by employers and our elected officials. What is really happening is that American workers are just too expensive to hire due to their pesky demands for fair pay and safe working conditions. You know, the things the labor movement fought for when robber barons ruled the workplace and you sold your soul to the company store. What has happened is that if employers cannot outsource your job to another country for employees abroad to be abused, they will use Congress and the White House to import labor they can abuse here instead. We have a laundry list of labor laws on the books to remedy these abuses, but we have a government unwilling and unable to enforce them. Unwilling because they are blinded by campaign donations and myths of a “nation of immigrants” coming to make a better life. Unable because the sheer magnitude of the numbers of aliens allowed into the United States overwhelms the scant resources devoted to enforcing our laws.
This all comes back to the central theme of our current legal immigration system that is rife with fraud, abuse, child labor, discrimination, and even slavery: Unscrupulous employers are seeking the vulnerable. They want the legal immigration system expanded because they need more cannon fodder. When a business does not have to do things like pay wages for labor or provide safe working conditions all that savings leads to bigger profit margins. We have a system that makes the abuse profitable because there is extremely low risk of getting caught when the whole system is flooded with migrant workers and the enforcement agencies lack the resources to protect the workers who arrive. That risk is even lower when the workforce is made up of aliens dependent on the employer for legal status. Make no mistake, this is a crisis. The labor violations against both American and foreign workers is piling up and our lawmakers are conspiring with their donors to expand the pool of potential victims. How many more claims of slavery, indentured servitude, and child labor will it take to wake Washington up?
JARED CULVER is a Legal Analyst for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, May 11th 2023 @ 3:23pm EDT