'Guest Workers' Sue Mississippi Shipyard

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Workers brought over from India are suing the Mississippi shipyard Signal International, saying the company's recruiters misled and mistreated them. The dispute is the latest over a guest-worker program long decried as vulnerable to abuse.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Guest workers from India are suing a company that builds oil rigs in Mississippi and Texas. They alleged they were misled and mistreated. Signal International denies the charges and accredits the guest-worker program with helping revive a devastated region after Hurricane Katrina.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

(Soundbite of Indians protesting)

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Dozens of welders and pipe-fitters marched in New Orleans this morning waiving blown-up receipts for fees paid to recruiters in India. Many say they went deep into debt paying up to $20,000 on the promise they would receive a permanent U.S. visa. Instead through the H-2B program, they could only work here for 10 months, up to 30 with extensions. Sebalo Dejayan(ph) also complained Signal's guest workers must pay $1,000 a month for dorm-like company housing.

Mr. SEBALO DEJAYAN (Guest Worker, Signal International): This is not a guest-worker program, this is slavery. This is a slave program. We gave this much money and we will go to hell.

LUDDEN: Signal International's president, Richard Marler, declined to speak on tape but he denied any mistreatment and noted the living quarters include flat screen TVs, Internet access and Indian food. Marler believes recruiters did mislead workers but he says Signal has changed recruiters and sent its own employees to India to supervise the process. Marler notes his foreign workers get the same pay and benefits as his American ones. And with the Gulf Coast economy booming, he expects to keep needing the outside help.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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