GBH News, February 2023
For eight months, Julio worked as a landscaper in Western Massachusetts, hauling rocks, digging ditches and pulling weeds about 70 hours a week, earning less than two dollars an hour. At night, tired and hungry, the Guatemalan immigrant would be driven back to his employer’s suburban home, where he would head down to the basement to sleep on a leaking, plastic blow-up mattress that would deflate in the middle of the night.
Julio — who GBH News agreed to identify with a pseudonym to protect him from retribution — says he was promised $14 an hour when he was first hired, but was paid less than $100 each week despite working long hours with no days off. Yet he felt he couldn’t walk away because his employer also provided something he couldn’t afford on his own: a roof over his head. “I had no money and I had nowhere to go,’’ said Julio, who spoke to GBH News in Spanish with the help of an interpreter.
Julio’s story is not unique. The GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting has found similar tales often repeated by migrant workers in Massachusetts: the use of housing to trap them in jobs where they receive little or no pay. Alleged victims include workers forced to toil long hours in restaurants and cleaning buildings, sometimes held hostage by their own family members, court records and interviews show.