A study was released by American University and the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante on Wednesday that documents experiences of Mexican women who have migrated to work as crab pickers in Maryland. Crab pickers are generally women because it is considered “lighter” work. They interviewed 43 women of the approximately 1,000 women that worked with crab companies last year. The findings resemble the human rights abuses of many companies that hire low wage labor from overseas and claim to support them effectively.
They described being charged illegal fees by recruiters in Mexico and enduring substandard working conditions in Maryland.
The women, few of whom spoke English, said they lived in housing with backed-up sewage and no working stove, lacked transportation to buy groceries or seek medical care, were not trained for their jobs or told how their paychecks and taxes were handled, and had a hard time picking enough pounds of crabmeat to make minimum wage.
“They get no formal training, they get cuts and infections, and they are charged fees to participate,” said Jayesh Rathod, an American University law professor who co-wrote the report.
Jack Brooks, president of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, claims that the crab pickers are paid and treated well. Different owners have different stories of what is considered good working conditions, but take “treated well,” with a grain of salt. One seafood store owner said in response to his employees sleeping ten to a room that, “they want to sleep in one room together.” Uh, right. The authors of the report recommend stricter oversight of guest-workers working conditions and better enforcement of rules protecting temporary workers.