LEWISTON, Maine — For Raquel Rodriguez, it is no small thing to know for sure that her family has a place to stay through the holidays.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess.
“I could go back to Texas, and I guess that’s what I’m planning to do,” Rodriguez said. “But I like Maine, and I like the schools here and I don’t want to have to leave.”
An agreement in Lewiston District Court on Wednesday gives Rodriguez and nine other tenant-employees of the former DeCoster Egg Farm in Turner until the end of February to vacate the company-provided trailers they call home.
The company declined to say why the tenants were being evicted. It could have enforced the eviction as soon as Christmas Day — seven days after the hearing. Instead, it agreed to give the group time to find new homes, and maybe new jobs.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen after this,” Rodriguez said. “They may not want us back. They may not let us come back.”
It’s been a home since 2009 for Rodriguez, her husband, Ramone Ramirez, and her four children. She works five days a week in the operation’s plant No. 2, packing eggs in boxes. Ramirez works at the egg farm as a crew chief in charge of maintenance at one of the barns, which houses 450,000 birds.
“Reason I took the job was for the housing,” Rodriguez said. “It’s the only reason I’ve stayed at the job, and if I can’t live in the trailer, I don’t see the point of keeping the job.”
Rodriguez moved her family from Texas to Maine to take the job. She’d just earned a certificate as a medical assistant in Texas and planned to take some time in Maine to settle in, working at the egg farm while she looked for a medical office that would hire her.
She learned when she got here that Maine’s rules for medical assistants are more strict than those in Texas.
“I planned to pack eggs for three months, but I didn’t know my certificate was no good up here,” she said. “I need another year of school to work as a medical assistant.”
The job at the egg farm was some comfort, however. It is exhausting labor, but it’s given her and Ramirez steady wages and has provided a roof over their heads.
“You knew that you were getting paid less, but the housing was a benefit,” she said.
The egg-farm operation provided rent-free housing for employees in 19 trailers near the Turner operation. It was part of the job package, Rodriguez said.
But today, only five trailers are occupied and Moark — the company that took over the operation in 2011 — is looking to close out the last five, she said.
The company’s legal representative, attorney Michael Donlan of the Portland law firm Verrill Dana, declined to comment Wednesday. Company spokeswoman Rebecca Lentz said in an email that Moark has been working with the tenants to find new housing.
“While the timing of the eviction proceedings unfortunately coincides with the holidays, the occupants of the trailers were first notified of the intent to close the trailers in May 2013,” Lentz wrote. “We have repeatedly provided access to assistance to occupants to help them secure new housing.”
Lentz was asked why the company has decided to close the trailers, but she had not answered by late Wednesday.
Rodriguez and other tenants say the trailers are in need of repairs and are becoming uninhabitable. The trailers have water, but it’s been just a trickle since Thanksgiving.
“You can’t even take a shower or flush the toilet,” Rodriguez said. “The best you can do is fill up a glass and dump it over your head.”
She and some of the other tenant-workers are considering hiring a lawyer. They allege the company is targeting Hispanic employees.
“Coming up to the trailer, it was a good thing at first and it helped me out a lot,” she said. “I won’t deny that. But it’s become a very bad thing for all of us now.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services