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North Pacific Seafoods faces class action lawsuit for workers’ alleged rodent-infested, moldy lodging and wage theft

(MGN)
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 5:24 PM AKST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2020 at 5:50 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The seafood processing industry in Alaska attracts thousands of seasonal workers, many of whom are from out of state. North Pacific Seafoods Inc. — responsible for roughly 10% of Alaska’s fisheries market and 800 seasonal employees annually — is facing a class-action lawsuit that claims its seasonal workers were provided unsafe, unsanitary working conditions, experienced wage theft and had their complaints to supervisors ignored.

Pedro Torres and Jorge Hurtado Jr., the plaintiffs, brought the complaint on their behalf and the class of those similarly situated. Those individuals are described as “Every person who works or has worked as a seafood processing employee in the state of Alaska for North Pacific Seafoods, Inc. during the period from October 19, 2017 to the date of judgment who timely opt in to this action.”

Torres, a Texas resident, worked for NPSI from June to July of this year. Hurtado, a Washington resident, worked for NPSI from June to August of this year. Both are stated in the complaint to have been hired as salmon processors and often worked 16-hour days, seven days a week. The primary responsibility of salmon processing workers was to clean, fillet, package and can seafood.

But, the men claimed in the document that they were not compensated for all those hours.

Before each shift, plant workers were required to wear safety gear and protective equipment, which the complaint says takes up to 15 minutes to put on. According to NPSI policy in the documents, workers were then checked in one-by-one, which occupied another 10 minutes. Workers were not allowed to clock in until those processes were complete.

After the shift, gear including aprons, gloves, boots, earplugs and hairnets was described as soiled with “blood and entrails.” Workers had to immediately clock out before removing any gear and washing off the boots and gloves, which would take another 10 to 15 minutes.

This resulted in workers being unpaid for the approximate half-hour to almost an hour of time spent in the company’s control, the lawsuit alleges.

The workers lived in nearby dorm-style housing, described in the lawsuit as rodent-infested and blooming with mold. The lawsuit states the living areas were “not ‘good,’ ‘habitable,’ or even suitable for human occupancy.”

“Several workers at one NPSI facility found they had to beat their mattress to scare away the mischiefs of rats that had nested inside,” the complaint reads.

A rat was found nursing its litter on a workers’ bed linens. Rodents were found throughout the bathrooms, which were each shared between more than four dozen workers. The complaint describes mold found across bathrooms and bedrooms, with a strong musky smell.

Photos of rat pups on a bed and mold on the ceiling that seem to support workers' claims were...
Photos of rat pups on a bed and mold on the ceiling that seem to support workers' claims were included in the complaint. (Source: Pedro Torres and Jorge Hurtado Jr. vs. North Pacific Seafoods, Inc. class action complaint)(KTUU)

The complaint says some workers became ill due to what they thought was water contamination. The tap water was described as smelling foul, tasting fishy and looking murky. Bottled water at nearby commissaries was often sold out.

Raw sewage was the smell coming out of a dining hall in a facility. When told there was a leaking sewage line beneath the floor and it was going to be fixed, the complaint states nothing was done to have it fixed. While supervisors had their own dining area, the odor in the dining hall had some workers sick and choosing not to eat.

For the entire season, the workers were allegedly provided one dust mask to protect them from fish entrails and COVID-19. The document says most workers eventually bought their own rubber boots, as the ones issued to them were prone to slipping and filling with water; required aprons were still soiled with fish remains from previous shifts; metal-mesh fileting gloves were not provided after workers were told they would receive them, resulting in workers receiving lacerations; earplugs that were prone to falling out and onto the fish-bloodied floor were to be put back in workers’ ears, supervisors told them.

Some workers found their eyes and lungs irritated and detected an ammonia leak in a facility and yelled for other workers to flee. Later, they were told there was an ammonia detector on the plant floor, but it was malfunctioning.

The class action was brought under the Fair Labor Standards and the Alaska Wage and a Half Act for monetary relief and penalties due. The plaintiffs and the class represented, who were lured to Alaska through deceptive representations, are seeking all statutory penalties, actual compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to certain Alaska Statutes, the document states.

Alaska’s News Source reached out to NPSI for comment but has not heard back by the time of publication.

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