Lawyers in Puerto Rico have filed a suit in U.S. District Court accusing apple growers in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and New York of conspiring to deny jobs to 1,100 Puerto Rican migrant farm workers.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages from 102 growers, including several farms owned by the family of Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind.-Va.) stems from a clash last fall between the growers and the U.S. Labor Department over the use of Jamaican laborers instead of Puerto Ricans to harvest the annual apple crop.
The growers last fall refused to employ hundreds of Puerto Rican laborers, saying the Puerto Ricans were unfit for the work, and openly stating their preference for the Jamaicans. The Puerto Ricans, as U.S. citizens, were entitled to first preference for the jobs, according to the Labor Department.
The suit alleges that the growers conspired to avoid hiring the workers after extending job offers through the Labor Department last August. Labor Secretary Ray Marshall is also named in the suit, although it seeks no damages from him.
Legal Services Inc., a Puerto Rican group that frequently represents migrant workers, filed the original complaint in November, but the suit did not come to light until yesterday. Thomas J. Bacas, a Washington lawyer who represents most of the growers, called the suit baseless.