Former fed detainees sue over pay

Mark Gutman/Daily News file photoTwo former detainees who were held at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Batavia say the $1 per day commissary pay violates the state Constitution and labor laws.

BATAVIA — Two former detainees at Buffalo Federal Detention Facility have filed a lawsuit claiming they worked for $1 a day in commissary credit, a practice “bordering on slavery.”

Rochester-based Worker Justice Center of New York filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of the detainees, Bounam Phimason and Dalila Yeend.

The suit, filed in Rensselaer County, where Yeend lives, is aimed at Akima Global Services. AGS contracts with the federal government to operate the detention center.

The suit claims that AGS’s practice of crediting detainees $1 per day for many hours of labor violates the New York State Constitution and various provisions of the Labor Law, including minimum wage. It also alleges that AGS “unjustly enriched itself through this exploitative practice,” according to a press release from Worker Justice Center.

AGS is paid a daily rate for each bed filled per day. By requiring detainee-employees to perform essential functions at well below the legal minimum wage, AGS avoids hiring non-detained employees to work for fair market wages, Worker Justice Center said.

Many of those detained in Batavia are held indefinitely, despite never having committed a crime, the center noted.

Yeend and Phimasone were released from detention in 2018 and 2019, respectively and now reside legally in New York state.

“This practice of paying people one dollar per day is bordering on slavery,” Yeend said in the release. “For the total hours that I worked, it was pennies per hour. It’s basically free work. When I think that I was working for a for-profit company, it’s disgusting.”

According to the lawsuit, detainees deliver and serve meals, clean, sweep, mop, taking out trash and “generally maintaining the 650-bed detention center.”

“Plaintiffs were captive and routinely required to be ready, willing, and able to perform any task asked of them, between their morning wake up count and lights out, at the facility,” the suit says.

Representatives for Akima and the detention center were unavailable to comment on the lawsuit.

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