As if Louisiana's heat and humidity weren't enough for migrant workers on a sugar cane farm, a Rosedale farmer withheld food and water from them for a time in June, even telling them to "drink from the ditch" if they needed relief in 90-degree temperatures, a federal court complaint says.
The U.S. Department of Labor filed allegations against the Rivet and Sons LLC sugarcane and soybean farm and its owners, Clinton Rivet and Brent Rivet, along with their father, the company’s former owner Glynn Rivet. The elder Rivet brandished a pistol in each hand at four of his employees after they asked for food and water before shooting the ground near them and once into the air on June 8, according to Labor officials.
Glynn Rivet was arrested that day by Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies and charged with four felony counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and one count of illegal use of weapons or dangerous instrumentalities, according to PCPSO booking documents.
A Rosedale farmer accused of firing gunshots and shouting obscenities at workers after they asked for food and water was ordered by federal re…
Glynn Rivet was the owner of the company at the time, but he “gifted” all of his ownership interest to his sons nine days after the incident, according to the Labor Department complaint. The property transfer came a day after complaints made it to the Fraud Protection Unit of the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, the complaint says.
On top of the criminal charges, the Labor Department wants a restraining order and injunction against Glynn Rivet, along with his former company. The agency says Clinton Rivet threatened to fire all the migrant workers at the farm if the complaints against his father weren’t dropped. One of the four men recanted his statement to the sheriff’s department and returned to work at the farm amid the pressure from the two sons, while the other three men were forced to leave the farm “out of fear for their safety,” according to the complaint.
Rivet and Sons LLC is a 6,000-acre farming business with nine fields in Iberville and Pointe Coupee parishes. It hires H-2A employees, foreign agricultural workers on special visas who plant by hand, manage water systems and remove weeds.
The Labor Department investigation found that the migrant workers on the farm often worked 10 or more hours a day, seven days a week “in fields that lacked potable drinking water and toilet and handwashing facilities,” according to the complaint. The farm is still operating under Clint and Brent Rivet, and 11 H-2A workers are still employed there.
“We believe we’re currently in compliance with the Department of Labor and that we’ll hopefully continue to do so and hopefully work with the government to resolve this,” said Walt Green, a Baton Rouge attorney who is representing the younger Rivets and the company.
The June 8 shooting stemmed from a request for water that the four workers made the day before after working for three hours in a field. “You don’t need water, drink from the ditch,” Glynn Rivet responded, according to a statement from one of the four workers taken by a Pointe Coupee Parish sheriff's deputy.
The high temperature in Baton Rouge was 91 degrees on June 7 and 8.
Glynn Rivet hovered over the men to “discourage them from taking breaks or look for water” following their request. Clint Rivet eventually brought the four men water, but it was an inefficient amount for the heat and the type of work the men were doing, according to the complaint.
The next day, things continued to escalate.
Glynn Rivet dropped the four men off in a field to work alone without their food or water and yelled “I am the one with the power here” as he drove away, according to the complaint.
After working for several hours in two separate fields away from their food and water, and calling Brent Rivet to request he bring them water, the four men opted to walk 1½ miles to a bus where the food and water was stored, according to the complaint.
While approaching the bus, the men heard shouting between Glynn and Brent Rivet, followed by a gunshot. Glynn Rivet then sped toward the men in his truck and one of the men had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit. The elder Rivet then emerged from the truck with a pistol in each hand, threatened the men with the guns, then fired the two shots, according to the complaint.
The incident was filmed by the workers, according to booking documents and the Department of Labor complaint. The Department of Labor did not respond to a Friday afternoon request to review the video.
The attorney listed as representing Glynn Rivet did not return a request for comment Friday afternoon.
The Labor Department case is before Judge John W. deGravelles in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Louisiana, and the criminal charges against Glynn Rivet are pending.
A status conference is set for the Labor Department case on Tuesday, and Green said he expects the case to move quickly.
The department called Rivet’s behavior “egregious and threatening” and asked the court to forbid Rivet from carrying a firearm within 5,000 feet of any current, former or prospective agricultural worker. The order would stop him from communicating to workers within 1,500 feet and entering the property where they live.
The Labor Department also asked for a preliminary injunction to stop the farm and its associates from retaliating against current and former employees and their families. It asserted that food and water are essential benefits.
Federal regulators asked that the farm install new locks and deadbolts or re-key locks on the doors of workers’ homes. The farm must pay the three discharged workers back pay and expenses from when those workers were unemployed due to Rivet’s retaliation, the DOL went on to say.
Additionally, the DOL is demanding that Rivet and Sons provide water, toilets and sinks to workers and inform them of their rights under the Labor Department program that allows for their employment.