Moon Valley Nursery Uses Mexican Slave Labor

Moon Valley Nursery Uses Mexican Slave Labor
As a result of my investigation, I have found discrimination against Mexican workers at Moon Valley Nursery. I have some of their check stubs to document my proof. Every white driver gets a raise per year of service with the company. The majority of Mexican workers have gotten nothing. There is a white driver getting $120/day for two years of service, while Joel Howard a Mexican gets $65/day for four years of service. Shawn Miller

Moon Valley Nursery does not have running water at the Mesa location for its restrooms. I do not know about the other 7 locations.

This is to request help from you to help Mexican immigrant employees that work for Moon Valley Nurseries. They are being treated and paid like slave labor. My husband is a white American who works for Moon Valley Nurseries as a delivery driver and has been trying to get better wages for the Mexican employees that work there. My husband has followed the chain of command and has spoken with his supervisors and the company's owner in order to get the Mexican immigrant employees better wages. The company officials are not interested in paying these Mexican workers better wages for all of their hard work. Some employees are paid only $55 per day regardless of the hours worked, which average 9-10 hours or more daily. Some employees are paid only $5.50/hour and work seven days and up to 90 hours per week with no overtime pay. They do not receive raises yearly as the company says it gives its employees. There are also no indoor bathroom facilities with running water at the Mesa location (McKellips Rd); there are only port-a-potties.

My husband has been gathering information from the Mexican immigrant workers in order to get better wages for them. He has copies of time cards and check stubs from some of the Mexican workers. The Mexican workers, of course, are afraid to speak up for themselves for fear of deportation--which they have been threatened with this week for speaking to my husband. My husband has done all he can to try and help them. We have contacted numerous state Representatives, state Senators, the Governor's office, newspapers, television stations, the Department of Labor, and others. My husband, our children, and I protested in front of Moon Valley Nursery on McKellips Rd. in Mesa on Friday (5-7-04) and Saturday (5-8-04). Shortly after we arrived home on Saturday, my husband was served with a Workplace Injunction that prevents him from contacting the Moon Valley Nursery by telephone or to come on or near its property.

We need your help. These Mexican immigrants need your help. They need a Voice that will stand up for them and let their voices be heard. Please do what you can to help them.

Teresa Miller/Shawn Miller

I have been protesting against Moon Valley Nursery:

for using Illegal Mexican Slave Labor:

I have now received a workplace injunction preventing me from protesting their illegal activity. What can I do now? Can you help me?
Shawn Miller
901 S. Dobson Rd. Apt. 1101
Mesa, AZ 85202

This statement is a true account of all that transpired from Monday, April 12, 2004 through Friday, May 7, 2004.

Sometime during the first week in April, 2004, I had forwarded a request to my manager, Sal Bracale, on behalf of a Mexican immigrant named Luciano who had worked for Moon Valley Nursery (MVN) for several years. Luciano knows all the plants by name and sight and he is bi-lingual; therefore, it was my opinion that he is more important than me and deserves more money than he was receiving. Sal Bracale acknowledged forwarding this letter to Jenni, his supervisor who is over payroll. I did not receive a reply of any kind from Jenni.

A drivers' meeting was called for April 12, 2004, for all nursery drivers from all eight locations of MVN. The last drivers' meeting was held in early 2003. This meeting was called after an incident that occurred when a Mexican planter carrying a 200 to 300 lb. plant box on his back dropped it on a dog and killed the dog. This incident was stated to all drivers at the meeting and was acknowledged in the second statement from the drivers' meeting's minutes. During the meeting, statements were made that the drivers would receive several bonuses, etc. This is acknowledged in the drivers' meeting minutes as #6, #7, #8, #18, #19, and #20. After all the talk of the drivers receiving bonuses, I brought up the subject concerning giving the Mexican planting crews bonuses as well. Les Blake, the owner of MVN, stated there was not enough money for the company to give the Mexican planting crews bonuses, and if money was given to the planting crews, some drivers would have to be laid off. Finally, my manager Sal spoke up and said that the planting crews should be given something for their hard work. So it was decided that MVN would give the highest rated planting crew of the current pay period new pairs of work boots. (As of May 4, 2004, in a telephone conversation between myself and Les Blake, he acknowledged that no crew had received work boots. Les Blake said he didn't even remember stating that the work crews would receive boots during the drivers' meeting. I advised him to reread the minutes from the drivers' meeting.) Also during the meeting, paperwork was mistakenly passed out which showed that MVN had made a $386,000 profit, and it was immediately taken back from the drivers' possession. Considering the profit shown on that paperwork, it made no sense that MVN said it could not afford to give the Mexican planting crews any bonuses, etc., without laying off some of its drivers. The decision to give the highest rated planting crew new work boots came as an afterthought or token response to my request to give them something as well.

The morning of the drivers' meeting, I spoke with my crew members and told them I would be presenting a request for more money at the meeting. When I spoke with my crew the day after the meeting and told them that there would be no more money for them and that only the highest rated crew per pay period would be given new work boots, they were discouraged. It was at that point that I felt the need to help them in any way I could to get MVN to treat them better. So I began to question each Mexican worker as to what exactly how much money they were making. I knew I was making $95 per day (even though I was told I would be paid $100 per day). Imagine my shock to find out that some of the Mexican workers were only being paid as little as $55 per day. Other Mexican workers were being paid anywhere from $65 to $85 per day. I could not comprehend that some of these Mexican workers had been working for MVN for four years and only being paid $65 per day. (For example, Joel Howard has worked for MVN for four years and is getting only $65 per day. Contrast this with a white driver that has been working for MVN for two years and makes $120 per day.) After talking to the majority of the Mexican planting crews that work at the Mesa location, I decided to ask the Mexican nursery workers how much money they made. Some of the Mexican nursery workers are paid an hourly wage of $5.50. Some of these nursery workers are working seven days and over 90 hours per week.

On Tuesday, May 4, 2004, after completing my day's deliveries, I was informed by my manager Sal that I needed to call Jenni immediately concerning some photos I had taken. I called Jenni. Jenni told me that Jaime, MVN's yard foreman, had informed her that I had taken photos of some of the Mexican employees. She stated that they did not want their photos taken. She then asked why I had taken the photos in the first place. I told her I was documenting Mexican slave labor for a website. She then asked why I was doing that. I told her my reason was because MVN is not paying the Mexican employees enough money for all their hard work. Jenni asked why I did not talk to my manager first. I reminded her of the letter that Sal forwarded to her requesting more money for one of the Mexican workers. I also reminded her that I brought up the subject at the drivers' meeting of more money for the Mexican planting crews. Jenni then said goodbye and hung up. I told my manager I had spoken with Jenni, and while we were speaking, his cell phone rang with a phone call from Jenni. I then went home. Later that evening, I received a phone call at home from Les Blake, which I alluded to earlier. Mr. Blake wanted to know what was going on and why it was going on. I explained to him that I had spoken with my manager, forwarded a letter to my manager's superior, Jenni, and even spoke up in the drivers' meeting seeking more money for the Mexican employees. I told him that no one wanted to listen to my requests for more money for the Mexican employees, so I decided to document the Mexican slave labor going on at MVN. I told him I took photos of his Mexican employees and talked with them and found out that they are not being paid enough. I told Mr. Blake that some of his Mexican workers were only being paid $55 per day, and some of his Mexican workers were working seven days a week and in excess of 90 hours per week. Mr Blak.e said there was no way any Mexican nursery worker was working seven days a week and over 90 hours per week; however, the time cards and check stubs of these Mexican employees show otherwise. I then told Mr. Blake that I had proof of how much these Mexican workers were being paid and how much they were working per week. Mr. Blake only wanted me to stop taking photos and to remove anything I had put on the internet. Mr. Blake wanted to know what I expected MVN to do for the Mexican employees. I told him that MVN should pay every Mexican employee $20 more per day. When I said this, Mr. Blake said there was no way they could afford to pay every Mexican employee $20 more per day. I then told him I knew that MVN had made a $386,000 profit. He was dumbfounded that I knew that MVN had made that much of a profit and immediately deduced that I found this out at the drivers' meeting when they passed out the wrong reports to us. Mr. Blake then told me to not take any more photos of the Mexican employees. And that was the end of the conversation.

After I had spoken with Jenni and Mr. Blake on Tuesday, I realized I needed to quickly gather my proof of MVN's mistreatment of their Mexican employees. On Wednesday through Friday, May 5-7, 2004, every Mexican employee was going to bring me their check stubs. I collected four of them on Wednesday, May 5, 2004, and nine more on Thursday, May 6, 2004.

When I arrived at work on Friday morning, May 7, 2004, I noticed that Scott Reeves' truck was already loaded and ready to leave the nursery. This was unusual because Scott usually takes his truck home each evening and has never been loaded by 6:00 am. As I went into the office, I noticed Scott's loaded truck being driven to the back of the nursery where the trucks are loaded. I completed my daily paperwork in the office. Then I went out to my already loaded truck, which has to be loaded the previous day. Luis, one of my crew members, informed me that we needed some 10-foot long stakes that are not on the truck. We both drove on a golf cart to the back of the nursery where the stakes are kept. On the way to get the stakes, I saw Jaime, the yard foreman, and spoke with him briefly about getting more money for the Mexican workers. Luis and I then continued to the back of the nursery to get the stakes, and I saw Luciano and several other Mexican employees who were loading their trucks. They appeared to be distressed. I approached Luciano and asked him what was wrong. He told me that Scott had forced him into Scott's truck and then intimated and threatened him for speaking to me. Luciano also said that Scott threatened every Mexican worker with deportation if they continued talking to me. I tried to reassure Luciano that there would be no problems for the Mexican workers and told him I would find out why Scott threatened him. Luis and I drove back to the front of the nursery where I found Scott talking to Jaime. I walked up to Scott and asked him why he had threatened Luciano. He said he did not threaten Luciano; he only told him not to talk to me. I told Scott that the Mexican workers have a right to talk to me because MVN is treating them like slave labor. Scott said that the Mexicans were not being treated like slave labor and they were being paid fairly. Scott said there were other places that were worse than MVN. I asked Scott how he was going to explain to his wife and son his reasoning when he has to stand before a judge and explain his actions. Scott then yelled out and told me not to talk about his son or his wife. Scott then walked away from me. Scott told me to stay away from him. I then explained to Scott that he had no right to threaten any of these Mexican workers, who were standing 15-20 feet away from us, with deportation or bodily harm. This conversation was witnessed by Luciano, Pedro, Luis, Joel, Carlos, Carlos, Jaime, Chuy, Manny, and possibly Greg, who is another driver, and others. Scott then went inside the office talking on his cell phone. I then told the Mexican workers again that Scott was no good and that he could not threaten or hurt them in any way. I also told them that MVN could not threaten or hurt them in any way. As I was telling them this, Scott came back out of the office, came to where I was standing, and told his crew to go and get in the truck. Scott then got into his truck with Chuy. The Mexican workers were just standing there, not knowing what to do. I explained to them that they could not get in trouble, no one could hurt them, and that I was fighting for them. I then told them to go ahead and go to work. Scott's crew got in his truck and they drove off. Greg, the other driver, then walked up and asked what just happened. I told him that I had been taking pictures and documenting the Mexican slave labor that was going on. I told him that Scott had threatened Luciano and the others with deportation for helping me. Greg then said he was glad someone was speaking up for them because he couldn't. Immediately following this conversation with Greg, Jaime drove up with Howard, a MVN executive that I had only met one time before, and who is not even my supervisor. Howard got off the golf cart and got right in my face and demanded to know if we were going to work today. This struck me as odd. It made no sense for Howard to ask if we were going to work today. MVN pays the delivery drivers and planting crews by the day, we don't punch a time clock, we leave the nursery anywhere between 6:30 am and 8:00 am, and we work until the deliveries are done, no matter how long it takes. It is up to the individual delivery driver as to what time he and his crew leave the nursery. The nursery doesn't open for business until 8:00 am. Gaylon, a MVN salesman, is the only office employee that comes into work before 8:00 am. I told Howard of course we were going to work today. Howard then pointed at me and said, "You do your deliveries today, and when you get back, you see me." Howard's condescending attitude and tone toward me were degrading and made me feel like I was an animal in his eyes. I perceived that the whole morning's events were a trap and that my job was now in jeopardy. I then stated that I quit. I handed Howard my cell phone, to which he replied, "What?!?" I again told him that I quit, and I walked to my car. I realized that I had a MVN gas card and a MVN shirt on, so I removed those and put them on the office steps. As I was walking back to my car, I told the Mexican workers that were standing around watching everything that it was not their problem; it was mine. I told them to go to work and that I would be their soldier and fight for them. I told them I would come back and protest in front of MVN. I then got in my car and left.

Moon Valley has issued a workplace injunction stopping me from protesting and talking with their employees. I will not have my hearing until May 20 at 2:00. This will give Moon Valley time to deport or fire these Mexican Immigrants.

I have retained:

Stephen G. Montoya

Attorney at Law

3200 N. Central Ave. Suite 2550

Phoenix, Arizona


May 20, 2004
My workplace injunction before Mesa Municipal Court was modified with no hearing and facts not adjudicated. The injunction now states that I am allowed to protest across the street from any Moon Valley Nursery location.

I have done many television and newspaper interviews, and I am very grateful for the support of the Latino community.

Moon Valley Nursery has intimidated my attorney Steve Montoya. He wants me to settle the case. He said Moon Valley Nursery was going to sue me and he did not want to fight them. I told him he did not have to defend me and hung up on him.

This is my response to Ray Stern, journalist, for East Valley Tribune Article:

First, this is not a labor dispute in the normal sense of a unionized labor dispute. This is a dispute about Mexican Slave Labor. I contend the company is using illegal immigrants in such a way as to make huge profits at the expense of cheap labor. The company also is treating the planters and nursery workers as animals and machines. The company needs to acknowledge there have been numerous OSHA violations, with injuries to these employees.

Second, the only employees who are being overworked and underpaid are of Mexican origin. I accuse the company of discrimination and racism against these Mexican workers.

Third, why did Montoya "vow" to file a federal lawsuit against the company on my behalf and these other employees? He wanted me to settle on Friday night, and did not want to continue to fight for me. He said it would be too expensive, and I did not have a case.

Fourth, why did the company not provide you with a planter or a nursery worker to speak with? Osvaldo Beristain, you say works in sales and design. That sounds like a fancy word for landscaping. By the way, while being interviewed by Telemundo, he refused to say how much his wages are.

I do thank you for printing this story. I am, however, confused as to why you printed it. How were you and your editor able to find it news worthy? According to Montoya, I have no case, and he has decided not to continue my case against Moon Valley Nursery. So, if he has found no justification, why have you then reported a false alarm? According to Les Blake, I am just a disgruntled employee and this situation is absolutely crazy.

What happens now to the poor guys I tried to protect? Joel, Luciano, Pedro, Luis, Jose, Victor, Carlos, Poncho, and the rest of these men deserve better than what I could do. Like I said before, I tried my best. I sent out over 1200 emails from The President down to "Joe Schmo". The issue of this situation has not been resolved and it never will be when Moon Valley Nursery denies all of my allegations and continues business as usual.

All is lost, except my soul. Now, maybe I just disappear.

Shawn Miller

We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
Arundhati Roy

anonymous on 2004-05-26 12:24:42 - recs (117)
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