Guatemalan workers reach settlement with Connecticut nursery

Guatemalan workers have reached a settlement with a Connecticut nursery accused of forcing them to work nearly 80 hours a week for less than minimum wage.

The settlement resolves claims against Imperial Nurseries and its parent company, Griffin Land & Nurseries that the nursery underpaid workers.

Attorney Michael Wishnie said he will continue to pursue claims that the independent company that recruited the workers, Pro Tree Forestry Services, engaged in human trafficking.

The workers said they were promised jobs planting trees in North Carolina for $7.50 (EUR5.5) an hour. Instead, they said they were taken in a van to Connecticut without their consent, had their passports confiscated and were threatened with arrest or deportation.

The settlement was confidential and details were not disclosed.

"Griffin and Imperial are pleased that the case against us has now settled," said Mike Danziger, president and chief executive officer of Griffin. Imperial's sales volume places it among the 20 largest landscape nursery growers in the United States, according to the lawsuit.

Griffin officials said they were shocked to hear the allegations of mistreatment by Pro Tree. The nursery quickly terminated its contract with Pro Tree and agreed to the financial compensation because of the hardship the workers alleged they experienced, company officials said.

Griffin has said the company cooperated with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, which also has filed a lawsuit in the case.

"We are happy that we have come together and stood up to protect our rights," Marvin Coto, one of the workers, said in a statement.

Pro Tree is accused of denying the workers emergency medical care and threatening them with arrest, imprisonment and deportation if they did not meet production standards.

A telephone message was left Monday morning with a spokesman for a Pro Tree principal.

The lawsuit says the workers were paid about $3.75 (EUR2.8) per hour but also incurred substantial, illegal deductions which further reduced their wages.