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Indian workers want to volunteer for community

Updated:

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A group of Indian workers who have accused a local company of using them as ``virtual slaves'' now want to give back to the community.

Workers from India have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the John Pickle Co. of paying them less than the federal minimum wage and confining them to a factory dormitory against their will.

Workers alleged the company threatened to send them back to India if they left the dorm without permission.

Local charities were inundated with calls earlier this month from individuals who wanted to help after they read of the workers.

``At this point, since the men cannot work for money and they have been sitting idle, they would like to volunteer,'' said Barbara Moore, director of the Asian-American Community Service Association. ``They would like to say thank you for the generosity the community has shown them and to see if there isn't some way they could be of use to the community.''

Moore said the men are looking to help any way they can _ anything from yard work and painting to assisting senior citizens.

``The best way we can (help) is by offering our energy and abilities as skilled tradesmen or as general handymen or laborers to help others,'' said C.T. Babu, a spokesman for the Indian workers. ``We want to be of use and we want to say thank you.''

John Pickle Co. has denied any wrongdoing.

Fifty-three workers were brought in from India in October for training before they were transferred to a John Pickle plant in Kuwait.

The employees' visas expire at the end of April, but they may qualify for special visas since they are potential witnesses in a criminal investigation, said Kent Felty, an attorney for the workers.

Forty-one men who remain in Tulsa are applying for T-1 visas and hope to be allowed to stay and work in the United States.

Jim Cook, co-chairman of the Oklahoma Labor-Religion Council, said his group is trying to raise additional funds to help provide food, shelter and transportation for the men.

``It's just incredible that they have been so oppressed, but also are wanting to reach out and help others,'' Cook said. ``We're just looking for anybody who's got something for these guys to do, and also for anyone to help provide food, transportation or help with their daily needs.''

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To help or for more information, call Barbara Moore at 918-234-7431 or Jim Cook at 918-250-5496.
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