Traveling fair workers allege 'horrific' conditions

Workers traveling the state for a carnival company describe working conditions as “horrific” in a lawsuit filed on January 5. At least 9 seasonal workers are suing Midwest Rides, also known as Mad-Jax Amusements. The 26 claims in the lawsuit include federal and state labor laws, human trafficking, assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The workers were in Minnesota from Mexico on H-2B visas, which allow citizens of other countries to work in areas where there are seasonal labor shortages; federal laws require employers hiring H-2B workers to pay a prevailing wage that does not undercut American workers, and to follow certain laws.

According to the lawsuit, Midwest Rides forced the men and women to work twice as long as promised without paying them for the extra work — with minimal breaks for resting, eating, or showering. The suit describes workers’ trailers as “dirty and in rancid conditions” with no air conditioning or functioning windows, and says “up to 50 workers shared one or two portable toilets.”

“Our allegation is that this employer took advantage of [laws] to circumvent the law, to treat people like animals, make them work ungodly hours, and for little pay,” David Wilson, one of the workers’ attorneys, told Fox 9. The workers are represented by attorneys at Wilson Law Group in Minneapolis.

According to workers, Midwest Rides provides rides and games to at least 25 fairs and events in Minnesota, as well as fairs in other states. The Minnesota State Fair confirmed with Fox 9 that the company provided the ferris wheel at the “Kidway” since 2010. The suit does not accuse fairs of having any knowledge of the alleged wrongdoings.

“We don’t want this behavior to ever go on again. Minnesota deserves better than that. People who go to these fairs deserve to know the people working there are treated fairly,” Wilson told Fox 9. Wilson said the workers endured racial slurs and constant snapping to work faster.

The lawsuit also raises safety concerns, including the allegation the company ordered a worker to drive “commercial vehicles used to transport rides and other fair equipment” even though the worker did not have an American driver’s license or commercial license. Additionally, Wilson told Fox 9 workers received minimal training before operating the rides.

“There are instances when some of the plaintiffs would say ‘I think something is wrong with the machine’ and try to communicate it, and were just berated for speaking up. And told go back to the machine,” Wilson told Fox 9, and also noted that the workers were not suing for safety violations and that the machines were inspected, “the people operating the rides took it seriously. They were parents, they had children.”

Wilson said the lawsuit follows several workers sneaking away from Midwest Rides in the night.

“It’s about dignity. As much as it is about getting paid the money they should have gotten paid, it’s also just giving them dignity. And making sure it never happens again,” Wilson told Fox 9.

Fox 9’s attempts to contact the owners of Midwest Rides were unsuccessful.