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Migrant workers sue Ellsworth motel alleging violation of federal housing law

Workers claim that while working for Hancock Foods in 2017, they were forced to share beds with other workers at the Eagle's Lodge Motel.
Credit: Credit: Zolnierek
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ELLSWORTH, Maine — Five migrant workers are suing the Eagle's Lodge Motel in Ellsworth, alleging they were forced to share beds and stay in otherwise illegal conditions when they lived there while processing blueberries for Hancock Foods in 2017.

But the motel owner said Monday that her contract was with Hancock Foods and that motel staff never had any contact with the workers.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Bangor on behalf of the five workers who live in Florida.

The plaintiffs worked at the Hancock Foods blueberry processing facility in August and September of 2017, according to the suit.

They lived at the Eagle's Lodge Motel under an arrangement with Hancock Foods through which each worker paid $5 a day.

They claim the motel owners on High Street violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act by housing groups of four unrelated migrant workers in rooms with only two beds, requiring that they "share beds" because they worked different shifts.

The suit alleges, "[O]n days off and during periods of less than full-time work, which occurred often, the Plaintiffs were required to share beds or sleep on the floor. The rooms were thus grossly and unhygienically overcrowded."

But the workers say the owners did not change the bedding daily or clean the rooms daily, as they did with the other rooms, and allege inadequate cooking, food storage, and laundry facilities.

The suit charges the motel owners with violation of housing standards, failure to obtain certification of occupancy prior to occupancy, and failure to post certification of occupancy.

Attornies seek $1,500 in damages for each worker -- $500 for each violation.

Kiki Katsiaficas said Monday that her family has owned the Eagle's Lodge Motel since her father built it in the 1980s. She said the motel staff only interacted with Hancock Foods, and never spoke to or even knew the names of the people who stayed in the rooms. 

"Our contract was with Hancock Foods, so I don't feel we are responsible directly to these people," Katsiaficas told NEWS CENTER Maine. "We made it very clear ... we don't offer rooms that have laundry or full kitchen facilities. And we entered into a contract with Hancock Foods on a weekly basis. We don't offer daily housekeeping on weekly rentals. We will come in if someone asks us to. Otherwise, we check the room on every third day. We make it very clear when we rent the rooms."

Katsiaficas said she spoke to the former owner of Hancock Foods "and I said, 'Our contract was with you,' and she agreed. We never heard any complaints or anything until four years later."

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