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Local companies facing penalties for exploiting Mexican national workers

Some critics say the financial fines these customs warehouses are now facing do not go far enough.

SAN DIEGO — Federal authorities revealed a major crackdown on three local companies found to be exploiting Mexican nationals employed here in the United States. 

 A lengthy investigation by the US Department of Labor found that three customs warehouses, Columbia Export Group, OMG Global Logistics, and Atlas Freight Forwarding, exploited more than one hundred employees who were crossing from Mexico into the U.S. for work.

"Once a worker crosses in  to the United States, U.S.  federal labor laws apply and will be enforced," said Department of Labor trial attorney Adriana Ahumada. 

These are laws that those three companies, located here in San Diego, violated, according to the federal officials, cheating dozens of employees out of hundred of thousands of dollars in wages and overtime pay over the past two years.  

"They were paying Mexican workers  in Mexican pesos  the equivalent of $2.50 per hour, even though  minimum wage in California is $15 an hour," said Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, Consul General of Mexico in San Diego.

Those companies also failed to pay overtime after 40 hours a week, according to Ahumada, "and using affiliates in Mexico  to pay employees as if they worked in Mexico and not in the United States," she added. 

All together, the three companies have been court-ordered to pay nearly two million dollars combined in owed back wages and overtime, as well as financial penalties: 

Columbia Export Group: $34,958; OMG Global Logistics: $10,920 and Atlas Freight Forwarding: a penalty of $10,790.

"A $10,000 or $30,000 fine is absolutely nothing," said Enrique Morones of Gente Unida, a local human rights group that advocates for immigrants, says that those punishments for companies that exploit their employees, need to be far more severe.

"It's almost saying like, okay, you got caught, you pay $30,000 and the next year, they'll start doing it again," Morones told CBS 8. "They really need to penalize them in a serious manner and make it hurt!"

"We are not stopping here," Ahumada said, "We will continue to investigate any reports that we receive."

The US Labor Department said that stiffer penalties could be pursued in the future, especially if there are repeat violations by a company.

"We are potentially seeking to expand our investigations as we get reports from workers," she added. 

Workers, regardless of immigration status, are encouraged to report any potential labor law violations, according to Ahumada. There is a confidential hot-line set up: 1-866-487-9243. 

For more information on filing a complaint, click here

WATCH RELATED: Wage transparency law proposed in California 


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