South Texas Project Sues for Labor Rights

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Civil rights group sues local nonprofit: ORC Industries Inc. faces complaint from fired worker

August 11, 2006

BY CHRIS MAHON
The Brownsville Herald

August 11, 2006 — The South Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against ORC Industries Inc., alleging fraud and labor law violations at the Brownsville nonprofit.

STCRP Director Abner Burnett made the announcement Thursday morning across the street from ORC’s Central Avenue plant. Plaintiff Cesar Arizmendi and other former employees who say they support Arizmendi stood with Burnett.

Most of the half-dozen ex-employees claimed they were fired after being injured on the job and denied proper medical care. They said they hope to join the lawsuit against ORC after Burnett reviews their claims.

ORC officials in their building did not respond to a Brownsville Herald request for comment.

Reached at his office in downtown Brownsville Thursday, Raymond Cisneros — the only local resident who sits on ORC’s board of directors –  said he could not comment on the lawsuit without knowing more about it.

Later in the day, ORC released a statement through spokesman Rob Geist.

“We will not comment on threatened or pending legal actions nor on the specifics of any individual case. ORC Industries has strived to carefully follow the laws and regulations that govern employment and operations at our facilities in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”

ORC receives contracts from the federal government to manufacture garments and other materials, primarily for the military. It is permitted to pay some of its disabled employees, about 20 percent by ORC’s accounts, less than the federal minimum wage of $5.15 anhour because the majority of its workers are considered disabled.

Instead of paying an hourly wage, employees like Arizmendi are paid a piece rate — wages based on the number of garments they can produce.

The South Texas Civil Rights Project alleges Arizmendi’s piece rate was held artificially low, in some cases as low as $2 an hour, according to court documents. When he asked how the rate was calculated, he was denied the information, the complaint alleges.

If proved, this would violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Labor Department cited ORC for violating the FLSA on four counts in 2002, according to department records obtained by The Herald.

South Texas Civil Rights Project also filed a retaliation and discrimination complaint on Arizmendi’s behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on July 21 of this year, alleging Arizmendi was fired for speaking to the media about working conditions at ORC. Burnett said that, depending on what the EEOC finds, he might roll that complaint in with the lawsuit filed Thursday.

Court records show the case will be heard before federal Judge Hilda Tagle.

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