Thursday, July 31, 2014

How Dare They

Last week WorkCompCentral reported on a raid in Florida of a company, Fruit Dynamics, arresting over a hundred undocumented workers.

Investigators from the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud and the Collier County, Florida, Sheriff's Department arrested workers from Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who runs the division, called the arrests "workers' compensation fraud" even though only a few of the workers had filed injury claims. The arrests were made under Florida Statutes Chapter 440, the workers' compensation law, which makes it a third-degree felony to use false documents to obtain employment or file an injury claim.

Maj. Geoffrey Branch of the Division of Insurance Fraud told Fox News Channel 4 the week of the story that the owners are not suspected of any complicity in the fraud.

"At this time, we do not believe anybody affiliated with the ownership or management had any idea that any of these documents were fraudulent," Branch said, according to the Fox 4 report. "We believe that they thought they were on their face value valid, authentic documents."

In fact the reason for the raid in the first place was because the original complaint was against the employer for intentionally hiring undocumented workers in a pattern of behavior and practice to underreport payroll and intimidate workers out of benefits for work injuries.

An attorney that represented several injured workers at the plant over the years had made the complaint to the Division because there was a pattern of practice he noted - that the employer's hiring and management practices were intentionally done to minimize workers' compensation liabilities and abuse immigrant workers.

So 105 workers get arrested for immigration and documentation fraud under a workers' compensation statute, even though most did not file any injury claims, and the employer faces no retribution whatsoever from the law even though there is documented evidence that the company knew what it was doing and its insurance carrier went along with the plan in complicity.
Bowzer persecuted because his face is brown

According to an affidavit signed by Lt. Mark Fritz, a state insurance investigator, the case started with a complaint made by Wellington, Florida, attorney Michael Elstein last September.

Elstein warned "there are numerous unauthorized workers (from another country) who are employed at Fruit Dynamics." He said the company also operated as Incredible Fresh and Collier County Produce.

Fritz said Elstein told investigators that the employer knew the workers were unauthorized. He reported in the affidavit that Elstein represented clients who had filed workers' compensation claim. He identified Elstein as a "defense attorney," apparently not understanding workers' comp industry parlance.

"Defense Attorney Elstein reported that when an employee became injured, he/she was terminated most of the time and/or harassed," Fritz wrote in the affidavit. "The insurance carriers in turn would then attempt to suspend his/her benefits and claim he/she committed fraud by using a false Social Security number in connection with their workers' compensation claims."

Elstein told WorkCompCentral, "I got so tired of this particular employer. Over the past five or six years I'd represented at least 10 of their workers, and I decided I had to find a way put an end to this."

Elstein had the permission of his clients to make the initial report, but the investigators from the Division of Insurance Fraud didn't then, and haven't yet, pursued the employer even though there is overwhelming documentation filed along with the criminal affidavits that not only did the employer know what it was doing, but it's insurance company knew too.

In his affidavit, Fritz alleged that the company's workers' compensation carrier, Guarantee Insurance Co., showed Fruit Dynamics was underreporting its payroll and thereby reducing its premiums by nearly half.

Of 212 Fruit Dynamic workers checked by the Division of Insurance Fraud, investigators identified 171 workers who used a stolen Social Security number or another person's identity to seek and maintain employment at the company.

And yet, no charges against the company or its managers and owners?

This is the double standard that can not be tolerated. Say what you will about whether or not undocumented workers are deleterious or beneficial to the economy, the bottom line is that unscrupulous employers will take advantage of them if they think there is a financial advantage to do so.

That any state would seek to bar workers' compensation benefits to undocumented workers is just plain backwards thinking - fortunately some lawmakers in North Carolina, where just such an attempt was made this legislative session, are smart enough to know that, killing such language in House Bill 369 in committee.

WorkCompCentral columnist Peter Rousmaniere wrote last month that based on extrapolation of statistics, undocumented workers sustain one out of every 10 work injuries.

"This high volume is invisible to almost everyone except for adjusters, case managers, lawyers and others who work directly with injured workers and have learned their work and life patterns," Rousmaniere wrote.

Rousmaniere concludes, "James Baldwin, debating William Buckley at Cambridge University in 1965, described the legacy of slavery as the tragedy 'when one has absolute power over another person.' To the undocumented worker, her or his employer holds nearly absolute power over safety. A work injury could result in jail time and deportation. Neither the workers' compensation system or worksite safety are healthy when one tenth of injured workers are in a constant state of vulnerability."

This double standard must stop. It is lightly veiled discrimination based on race. The masters aren't prosecuted for their fraud and deceit, but the powerless workers are punished for their enslavement.

I thank people like Elstein who stand up for immigrants and their rights.

And the people of our government who are complicit in employer fraud should be taken to task: Atwater should be removed from office, state investigators and prosecutors who turn the blind eye should be fired.

How dare they abuse the confidence of The People.

In terms of racial equality, this country, unfortunately, has a very, very long way to go.

1 comment: