The New York Times: Union Accused of Betraying Migrant Carnival Workers

Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From The New York Times:

by Barry Meier

RICHMOND, R.I. — At summer carnivals like the Washington County Fair recently held here, migrant laborers spend long days running the Whip, the Orbiter, the Polar Express and other popular rides.

So when a new union signed contracts with dozens of companies that operate at fairs and carnivals, it seemed that a group of workers long considered exploited had found a new ally.

Labor advocates, however, have since charged that the new union was really a stalking-horse for industry, not a champion for laborers, many of whom come from Mexico. And instead of demanding that companies pay the carnival workers more, the advocates say the union deals assured the employers they would not have to do so.

Several officers of the union, the Association of Mobile Entertainment Workers, also had close ties, it turned out, to two businessmen — one in Texas, the other in Mexico — who have long supplied carnivals and fairs with itinerant Mexican workers.

“This was a fraud on the system,” said Art Read, a lawyer with Friends of Farmworkers, one of the groups that filed a complaint last year about the union with the National Labor Relations Board.

The Association of Mobile Entertainment Workers is a new player in a long legal battle between labor advocates and the carnival industry over the pay and working conditions of migrant laborers. In separate lawsuits, migrant laborers from Mexico have charged that carnival companies forced them to work long hours, often at little or no additional pay, and threatened to send them home if they complained.

One laborer, Enrique Vasquez-Alejo, who worked at fairs in Maryland and Virginia, testified in a lawsuit that his bosses told him, “If you don’t like it, get your things together and go back to Mexico.”

Read the full article from The New York Times.