SMYRNA, Tenn. - A company accused of mistreating workers has fired back at critics.
On Thursday, a guest worker from Mexico complained about lack of overtime pay and deplorable work conditions at Vanderbilt Landscaping. Hilario Jimenez said Vanderbilt Landscaping even forced him to work at gunpoint. Immigrant Accuses Company Of Human Trafficking
The owners of the company say the allegations are completely false.
"I just see everything and I'm just overwhelmed. Like whoa ah. What is going on?" Joffery Vanderbilt said.
Joffery and Larry Vanderbilt said they could not believe the accusations when Hilario Jimenez and a group of protesters from the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice started protesting outside the company Thursday.
"All the allegations that they were stirring up were just -- it was crazy," said Larry Vanderbilt
They believe Jimenez was trying to retaliate for discipline he received at the end of June.
Vanderbilt Landscaping employs 60 people. The company has several contracts with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to cut grass along highways and interstates.
The H-2B program lets American companies bring people into the country as guest workers if they can't find Americans to fill the jobs.
Jimenez was one of them. Among his accusations -- Vanderbilt Landscaping doesn't pay overtime.
"Hilario made $12.33 an hour. We always pay our guys time and a half, and time and a half equals $18 and something cents an hour," Joffery Vanderbilt said.
The Vanderbilt's showed us Jimenez's last paycheck showing three hours of overtime. They also showed us a payroll journal showing how much he made.
Jimenez said the company forces employees to work in extreme heat with few to no breaks.
"We never force anyone to work," Joffery said.
The Vanderbilt's said workers get half hour lunches and two 15 minute breaks in addition to other breaks when they get too hot. As far as the accusation of working at gunpoint, the Vanderbilt's said that too is totally false.
"That is all false. None of us carry guns. That is false," Joffery said.
A Nashville Union leader also brought up the issue of taking jobs from American workers. The Vanderbilt's said they ran ads in newspapers in Nashville and Memphis for three weeks. They said they did 70 interviews, and said most of the applicants decided the work was too hard.
A spokeswoman for TDOT said the department is going to review Vanderbilt Landscaping's payroll and interview employees about pay rates. She said since there are allegations of deplorable working conditions, TOSHA will also do a review.