Sugar Beet Truck Driver and H-2B Whistleblower Fired in Minnesota

Last week, we reported on how some truck drivers in the sugar refining business were being adversely impacted by H-2B foreign workers.

We did not mention the name of the whistleblower, or even the state where the problem existed. Unfortunately, we can now.

You see, this week Todd Harper was fired by his employer, Transystems LLC, a trucking company headquartered in Sidney, Mont. Harper worked for the company’s operation in Renville, Minn., some 100 miles due west of Minneapolis, hauling sugar beets from farms to the big sugar mill in that town.

These were, as we described in the blog, 12-hour days, with the pay on a piece-rate basis; the sugar refineries run around the clock until the last sugar beet in the inventory has been processed into sugar. Transystems contracts with the Southern Minnesota Sugar Beet Cooperative to haul the beets to the plant. The manufacture of sugar is profitable in the United States because U.S. law limits the importation of sugar from other (lower cost) nations.

Harper’s complaints about the adverse effect of the Mexican drivers, recruited through the government’s H-2B foreign worker program, apparently became known to management. Harper says that he was fired without documentation and was told “that the company wanted to diversify its work force and Harper was fired because he resisted that.”

We were unable to get a call back from the company as to the rationale for the firing.

Typically, H-2B employers use the program to avoid having to meet the competition of the American labor market and to skirt the necessity of offering the wages and working conditions that would complete their staffing needs. Harper said that the company had not raised its wages lately and did little advertising outside the immediate work area — not advertising in the Twin Cities, for instance. It had hired some 25-30 drivers from Mexico, and used them on the night shift.

Asked if the company might block his application for unemployment insurance, if he filed one, Harper said that Minnesota state law said that employers could not ask workers to break state laws and could not block UI under those circumstances. Harper said that he had physical proof — photos and weighing slips — indicating that the company was getting its drivers to carry several more tons of sugar beets than the 97,000 lb. gross limit for its class of trucks.

Excess weight is a safety issue because the truck’s brakes cannot stop in time if the load is too heavy.

Harper is talking to lawyers and the press while looking for another employer.

It is unusual and commendable for a worker to risk his or her job because of complaints of the misuse of immigration law and related issues.

The nation should have lots more Todd Harpers coming forward, bravely, as he did in this case.

There will presumably be more developments and we will report them as they occur.

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