Workers who harvest clams at a Bellingham-based company say their employer underpaid them for years. They have filed a lawsuit for wage theft.
Commercial clam harvesters work with the tides. The hours can be long, dark and muddy.
The workers who brought this lawsuit are all indigenous Mexicans from Oaxaca.
They’ve worked at Trans Ocean Seafoods, Inc. in Bellingham for several years. And in legal documents, they claim they often work up to 60 hours a week. But the company fails to pay for all the hours worked and never pays overtime.
Andrea Schmitt, with Columbia Legal Services, is their attorney. She said immigrants are often victims of this type of wage theft, and her clients want it to stop.
Schmitt: “They’ve watched the company deprive them of wages in a way they thought was unlawful. And they were tired of watching themselves and their co-workers be taken advantage of. They do this absolutely at the risk to their jobs. It does take a lot of courage to come forward."
Three workers filed the lawsuit. But Schmitt said dozens more clam diggers at Trans Ocean Seafoods could have similar claims. The company did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
Schmitt estimates the company owes each of her clients tens of thousands of dollars.
The lawsuit seeks these unpaid wages and also for the company to change how it pays workers in the future.
Separately, Trans Ocean Seafoods was also hit with a federal sexual harassment lawsuit earlier this month. On October 1, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit that charges a Trans Ocean supervisor "subjected four Latina workers to explicit and graphic commentary about their body parts and what it would be like to have sex with them, on a near daily basis."
The EEOC lawsuit charges the company retaliated against three of the victims and another co-worker who tried to help them.