Since it reopened last year under the Trump administration, the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children has quickly expanded. The facility grew in size not once but twice last year, and now has capacity for 3,200 migrant children. The for-profit company that runs the shelter, Comprehensive Health Services, Inc., has dozens of job openings listed on hiring sites such as Indeed.com.
But two former employees claim they weren't trained — or paid — properly for their work at the shelter. And after they complained, they said, they were fired.
In two separate lawsuits filed last month in federal court, Suny Chirinos and Annette Padilla say they accepted offers in March 2018 to work as travel chaperones. Both claim they were later asked to cover youth care worker shifts without the training required by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and U.S. Committee for Refugee and Immigrants.
Chirinos and Padilla each "requested that the training be provided before being placed and required to carry out the duties of a youth care worker, but no actions were taken by management," say the complaints, both of which were filed by Miami attorney Peter Hoogerwoerd.
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The two also claim Comprehensive Health Services failed to pay a fringe rate required under the Service Contract Act, a law that governs workers' wages when contractors are used for government work. They were hired at a salary of $17 per hour, plus an additional $4.18 as a fringe benefit under the act. Yet they didn't receive the fringe pay, the lawsuits say.
After bringing up the pay and training issues, Chirinos and Padilla say they saw their hours "drastically reduced." Then, in late September, both women were fired in what they claim amounts to a violation of Florida's whistleblower act. They're asking to be reinstated and paid for lost wages.
A spokesperson for Comprehensive Health Services did not respond to New Times' request for comment. But in answers to the complaints, attorneys for the Cape Canaveral-based company denied violating any laws. However, they acknowledged that "travel chaperones such as (Padilla) were qualified and asked to provide coverage for youth care worker shifts from time to time." They're asking for the complaint to be dismissed.
Meanwhile, the company is in recruiting mode, holding a series of hiring events last month. A flyer said the company was looking for counselors, case managers, nurses, teachers, and youth care workers. "Offer letters will be extended to qualified applicants on site!" it said.