Labor Attorney and Migrant Farm-Workers Sue Monsanto

Migrant Farm Workers
A handful of migrant farm workers in Texas has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto, claiming that the agriculture giant pays them less than minimum wage, houses them in substandard conditions and charges them for rent that is supposed to be free. The lawsuit was filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

The eight farm workers carpooled from Texas to Indiana in the summer of 2010 to put in several months shucking and sorting corn, according to the complaint submitted in federal court last week by lead plaintiff Jose Cardenas. The workers state that Texas recruiter Hermilo Cantu, who was serving as an intermediary for Monsanto, promised the workers that they would have plenty to do at an agreed-upon wage, complementary housing for their families, and kitchen facilities to cook their own food.

The workers, however, allege that those promises were unfulfilled. The recruiter had told them they would earn $80 per acre, but the pay turned out to be much lower, and fell below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The workers were given a free motel room when they first arrived, but in a short amount of time they were sent to a former nursing home that charged $300 a month for rent.

In terms of the kitchen facilities promised, the migrant workers claim that the employer hauled in an old school bus that had three or four stoves and a refrigerator, a cramped and “substandard” setup that was entirely inadequate to accommodate the eight families. “Plaintiffs found the ‘kitchen bus’ to be seldom usable because it was so overcrowded and inadequate for the number of workers,” the complaint reads. Two workers, Antonio and Irma Mena, say they were put in a room that didn’t have enough beds for them and their three children.

More troubling, but hardly surprising given Monsanto’s record, “two or more” of the workers “suffered illness or injuries from suspected pesticide exposure” during the course of the work.

Tom Helscher, a spokesman for Monsanto, told the Huffington Post that the company has not yet reviewed the complaint, but knows it has been filed. Helscher provided an email response in which he stated that “Monsanto is committed to insuring that all seasonal laborers supporting our business receive the pay and benefits they are promised, and the pay and benefits provided exceed what is required by law.”

Missouri-based Monsanto is the biggest global producer of genetically modified seed. The company reported sales of $4.2 billion, along with a net income of $937 million in the most recent quarter.

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