Osfel Andrade: Anaheim, CA

Osfel Andrade Anaheim, CaliforniaWorker who is fighting retaliation for leading 500 colleagues to sue employer for back wages

Osfel Andrade had lived in the United States for decades and was working at Terra Universal on June 29, 2010, when immigration agents raided the Fullerton, California, based company. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 43 workers and placed them in deportation proceedings, but Andrade was not detained that day. He could have tried to remain out of sight. Instead, he courageously took action to demand long-overdue justice on behalf of himself, the workers arrested in the raid, and the hundreds of other immigrant workers employed by Terra Universal over the previous four years. By attaching his name as a chief litigant in a class-action lawsuit against the company, Andrade is demanding back wages for the years of exploitation and discrimination that he and his colleagues experienced.

Andrade took the step to file a lawsuit against Terra Universal at great personal risk to himself and his family. By filing the lawsuit in his name, Andrade ran the risk that ICE would discover he had not been arrested during the raid and take action against him. But he was committed to seeking justice for his colleagues who were not only victims of severe exploitation but now also victims of ICE and a broken immigration system.

Unfortunately, ICE agents arrested Andrade at his Anaheim home a few months after he filed suit. Based on statements made by ICE agents during his detention, there is evidence that, in retaliation for having filed suit against the company, Terra Universal informed ICE that Andrade had been an employee and his immigration status.

Andrade was detained in an immigration detention center for three weeks until a family member was able to post bond. Andrade is now in deportation proceedings and faces the very

real threat of separation from his family and the life that he has built over decades in Southern California. Had Andrade decided to sit on the sidelines and not fight for the rights of his fellow co-workers, he would not be in this situation. But his commitment to justice is what guided him.

Andrade’s example has inspired his fellow former Terra co-workers to remain unified. They have rallied behind him, the lawsuit, and the collective efforts of the workers and the advocates from ACLU and the Coalition for Humane Immigrations Rights of Los Angeles to fight the deportations.

The case exemplifies how unscrupulous employers use the threat of immigration retaliation to suppress worker grievances and complaints, including lawsuits. The suit charges Terra Universal with failure to pay employees overtime wages, failure to pay minimum wage, falsifying wage statements, discriminating against employees who are Latino, non-citizens, or perceived to be undocumented in paying them lower wages and subjecting them to harassment, and misrepresenting employees’ legal rights to induce them to work under unlawful conditions and by making false promises of bonus compensation in exchange for reduced hourly wages.

Andrade’s courage and determination to continue the case amidst his own deportation proceedings has raised widespread public awareness of the struggles immigrant workers face when they attempt to ensure workplace rights. His story has been published widely in Southern California and has been brought to the attention of high-level management at ICE in Washington, as well as with the U.S. Department of Labor. Andrade has also recently filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint alleging that Terra Universal retaliated against him by reporting him to ICE after he filed suit against the company. That investigation is ongoing.

Andrade is a valued and trusted leader among the Terra Universal workers whom the ACLU and CHIRLA have worked to organize and represent in the wake of the ICE raid. His unflagging efforts are an inspiration not only to his fellow workers, but all workers who have been exploited.

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The Freedom From Fear Awards are produced by Public Interest Projects, (PIP).  PIP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that brings together and strengthens the work of philanthropic institutions, donors, nonprofit groups and other public interest organizations sharing a vision of a society that ensures justice, dignity and opportunity for all people.   Statements and activities of Freedom from Fear Award winners do not necessarily reflect the views of PIP.

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