Afghans & Iraqis At Ft. Irwin As War Training Props Mistreated, Suit Charges

A group of Middle Easterners recruited to assist in building and to then inhabit mock-up Iraqi and Afghan villages located on the grounds of the Fort Irwin National Training Center for the purpose of realistically simulating the environs soldiers will be called upon to wage combat in during overseas assignments have filed suit against the Army contractors who constructed and operated the facilities.
Eighteen of the Iraqi and Afghan nationals, represented by Phoenix-based attorney Dennis Evans and the Phillips Dayes National Employment Law Firm, filed suit in Los Angeles Federal Court against Calnet, Inc., Acclaim Technical Services and Parsons Government Services, Inc.
According to the suit, in their effort to maintain verisimilitude with the primitive conditions of the villages they were seeking to emulate, the contractors created them without modern American conveniences and creature comforts, such as running water, toilets or electricity.
The foreign nationals were forced to endure the hardships typical of their homeland in these accommodations, and, in carrying out their role-playing, were forced to stay in place 24 hours a day for extended periods of time, in one span for 19 consecutive days, remaining continuously in character and unable to avail themselves of the standard amenities afforded to most Americans.
Subjecting them to those conditions, which included denying them meal breaks and rest periods, constituted a violation of the California Labor Code, according to the suit.
A major bone of contention between the employees and employers, according to the suit, was compensation for “sleep time,” with employees contending they should have been paid for all of the time they were required to remain in the ersatz villages. The government contractors dispute that. On multiple occasions, the foreign nationals were forced to awaken from a sound sleep to engage in the training exercises.
Moreover, according to the suit, the foreign nationals were virtually imprisoned within the staging villages, as there was no transportation available to them and they had no realistic prospect of leaving the remote locations.
“Defendants and plaintiffs had no agreement to exclude sleep time from their compensation,” the lawsuit maintains. “Employees would regularly complain about not being paid for this time, and were simply told if they did not like it they could go home. Employees were trapped on a base for the entirety of a rotation” with “no means to leave.”
The Army maintains simulated battlefields on the expansive grounds of Fort Irwin to allow soldiers scheduled for deployment to the Middle East or North Africa to experience combat conditions they are likely to encounter there. These include the fabricated villages populated by “role players” who are instructed to comport themselves as they would in their native countries.
The battle training exercises were carried out at all hours of the day and night, according to the suit. “They were always required to be on duty, in character and costume,” the suit states. “Employees would regularly be woken up at all times in the night during the rotations. They did not receive a period of five hours of uninterrupted sleep time as such sleep is compensable.”
The plaintiffs were overworked and shortchanged on pay, in defiance of state law, according to the suit. The foreign nationals were essentially working 24 hour per day for weeks at a stretch, according to the suit, but were paid for no more than 12 hours per day. “Plaintiffs were under the control of the defendants from the minute they were on the base,” the suit states, noting they were provided with time-and-a-half when their time cards reflected they had worked more than 40 hours in any given week. Nevertheless, according to the suit, they were not paid for all the time they worked, such as when they were forced to remain on the base around the clock, 24 hours each day.
The suit asks for back pay on wages not paid, which is to be calculated as overtime, interest and damages for labor law violations. The suit further alleges and unfair competition.

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