Federal law generally requires employers in Texas and around the country to pay their employees at least $7.25 per hour, but many produce workers in the Rio Grande Valley are receiving less than half of this amount according to a local advocacy group. Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid says that it has received more than 200 complaints from produce workers in the McAllen area about low pay and appalling working conditions. Some of them say that they work 10 hours every day and are only paid about $600 per month.

The conditions the workers describe are harrowing. One worker says that she is constantly threatened by her supervisor and was forced to pack fruit and vegetables while sick with the flu because she was not permitted to take time off to see a doctor. She also says that workers are forced to walk to a nearby gas station if they need to use a bathroom as the facilities in the produce packing plant are off-limits to them.

A local church has taken an interest in the workers’ plight and has made plans to meet with McAllen’s city manager and mayor to discuss the issue. The group describes the working conditions at the produce plants as modern slavery and is demanding an investigation. The church also wants the city to deny incentives to any produce companies found to be in violation of federal or state labor laws.

The sanctions for violating laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Equal Pay Act can be severe, and employers may face additional penalties if they retaliate against workers who file complaints about wage and hour violations or grueling working conditions. Attorneys with experience in this area may take legal action on behalf of workers seeking back pay and additional damages, and they could also contact regulatory agencies like the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and the Texas Employment Commission.