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Press Release: Proposed Class of Sheepherders Vindicated in Suit Against Western Range Association

Last week, a federal district court in the District of Nevada ruled in favor of a proposed class of migrant sheepherders who allege that an association of sheep ranches has colluded to suppress their wages and restrict their ability to seek out jobs where they would receive better treatment. The order is a major victory in a long-running effort on the part of some of the lowest paid workers in the American economy to use the antitrust laws to attack their exploitation.

Thousands of sheepherders across the American West currently make wages as low as $5-$6 per hour for grueling round the clock work. According to advocacy groups, many sheepherders working in the country on H-2A guestworker visas “live in isolation in tents or dilapidated trailers with no heat, air conditioning, running water or toilets and rely on their employers to deliver food periodically.”

In Cirilo Ucharima Alvarado v. Western Range Association (D. Nev.), a former sheepherder alleges that he was hired to work at a ranch in Nevada through the Western Range Association, an association of sheep ranches, which offered all sheepherders wages at precisely the minimum allowable by law and prevented sheepherders from shopping between ranches for one that would pay them more or treat them better. According to the Court, paying the minimum wage allowable by law is not an excuse to wage fixing: “[I]it can be simultaneously true that Defendant and its members are complying with DOL’s minimum wage regulations and violating antitrust laws by agreeing together to only offer the minimum allowable Wage.” The Court’s order comes more than three years after an appellate court based in Colorado ruled that similar allegations did not violate the antitrust laws.

“The time I spent at the ranch I was assigned to was full of pain and abuse. I felt trapped in a terrible situation, but I am happy to hear that the court ruled in our favor. I look forward to a positive resolution for all the sheepherders that had a similar experience,” Cirilo Ucharima Alvarado, the plaintiff in the case, who now lives in his native Peru.

“This victory is an important reminder that the antitrust laws extend to all workers the right to fair competition in the marketplace—including the right to shop between jobs for decent pay and treatment. We’re so proud to represent our courageous client in attacking the abuses he faced in the United States,” said David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice.

 “The Court’s ruling is a powerful vindication of the rights of workers doing some of the most challenging work in our economy for the lowest pay.  The opinion reinforces that wage fixing is illegal no matter the economic status of the victims,” said Jamie Crooks, Managing Partner of Fairmark Partners, LLP.

Press Contact: Natasha Viteri, [email protected], (720) 882-5142

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