Harris County

Contract COVID-19 testers file federal compliant over wage dispute and threats of deportation

Former workers say they faced threats of deportation if they spoke out about the alleged mistreatment.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Zulema Perez, a former COVID-19 tester, talks about the alleged abuse her coworkers faced from their former employers on Nov. 22, 2022.

Houston-area contract workers lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor on Tuesday over allegations of unfair pay and threats of deportation from two local companies that administers COVID-19 tests.

During the height of the pandemic, the Grinder Group and Speedie Recovery Services operated mobile COVID-19 testing sites throughout Harris County, hiring contract workers to conduct thousands of tests.

Former workers like Zulema Perez say the companies didn’t pay them a minimum wage or overtime and threatened to report undocumented workers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they spoke out about the alleged mistreatment.

“We worked so many hours in the rain and the cold,” said Zulema Perez, a former COVID-19 tester. “We were not treated fair.”

In an email, Grinder Group President and CEO Mickey Weaver wrote that Speedie Recovery was contracted through Grinder Group. Weaver added that he ensured that Speedie “was paid for all services rendered.”

“Grinder Group (has) met all their liabilities and debts,” Weaver wrote.

Frank Rodriguez, the owner of Speedie Recovery Services, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Anahi Tapia Torres, an organizer with Unemployed Workers United, said the companies failed to treat their contract employees with “dignity and respect” — a form of abuse that’s become an unfortune trend, according to Torres.

“Temporary workers are vulnerable to exploitation, low pay, little-to-no benefits and overall abuse from their employers,” Torres said.

Torres said the workers are hoping for a federal investigation into the allegations. For now, they’re waiting for a response ​from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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