N.H. amusement ride operators sued in Mass. over wage practices

The suit alleges that the company required its foreign workers to work up to 95 hours a week at a flat $400 salary

Fiesta Shows, a Seabrook company that operates the rides at many local fairs in New Hampshire and other New England states,  pays it workers a flat weekly salary for a 40-hour work week while sometimes requiring them to work more than twice that amount, according to a class action suit filed in Boston.

The suit alleges that Fiesta required that the foreign workers – who are working under the federal H-2B visa program – pay for their own visa and traveling, which might contradict federal regulations.

“This is particularly egregious,” said Shannon Lisa Riordan, a Boston attorney who filed the suit. “These people were working when they got up to when they went to sleep.  When you do the math, it comes out to about $4 an hour, but because a lot of these workers are from other countries, they don’t expect anyone to take any action.  It takes the courage of a few to speak out.”

Riordan, whose firm specializes in wage and hour suits, said that it was the first one she could remember that was filed against a New Hampshire company.

The complaint, filed Monday in Suffolk Superior Court, only identifies one plaintiff – Jorge Pillar Garcia – though it was filed on behalf of about 200 other individuals who worked as maintenance workers responsible for assembling, dismantling and operating the amusement park rides throughout New England.

The suit names EJ Amusements of NH Inc., which is doing business as Fiesta Shows, and Eugene Dean III, the company’s president and treasurer, and Norma Dean, a director of the company and its secretary. Both reside in Salisbury, Mass.

Eugene Dean declined comment on any litigation, but he issued the following statement:

“Our family business has worked hard for 50 years to bring fun-filled experience to our customers and a positive and rewarding workplace to our employees,” he said.

He would not elaborate.

Garcia, who hails from Veracruz, Mexico, worked for the company from March 2010 to October 2011, the suit says.  He and his fellow workers were paid a flat wage of less than $400 a week, but actually worked up to as many as 95 hours a week without being paid overtime, the suit alleges. 

The suit was filed under Massachusetts labor law, but Riordan said her firm was investigating filing under New Hampshire law as well.

The New Hampshire Department of Labor did inspect one fair that Fiesta operated last July in Hampton and found no violations involving any of the 20 workers, who include two minors.

The class action suit also says that Garcia paid $500 for his H-2B visas, allegedly as a pre-condition of providing services to the defendants as well as being forced to bear the cost of travel expenses within Mexico to reach the consulate, obtain his visa, and then to travel to the U.S. border.

According to a U.S. Department of Labor fact sheet, employers “must either advance all visa, border crossing, and visa-related expenses to H-2B workers, pay for them directly, or reimburse all such expenses in the first workweek.”

The H-2B program also requires that workers be paid the prevailing wage, which is stipulated in federal regulations.

According to federal records, the government granted the company applications for some 60 H-2B visas, at $354 a week in 2011, some 48 visas at $364 a week in 2012, and 40 visas at $8.83 an hour this year, though the federal government raised the 2013 prevailing wage rates at the end of May.

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