Monsanto is 3rd RTRS member to be accused of bad labour practices
Suit filed for Yuma migrant workers
February 07, 2011 5:07 PM
BY JAMES GILBERT - SUN STAFF WRITER
Community Legal Services, a not-for-profit civil law firm in Arizona, filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the Monsanto Company on behalf of 16 U.S. migrant workers from Yuma County, including a 13-year-old boy, for egregious employment practices.
According to attorney Pamela Bridge, who is representing the workers, in June 2010 Monsanto recruited the workers from San Luis, Ariz., to detassel corn in Indiana. The workers, she added, were promised free transportation to Indiana, decent, free housing and certain wages.
According to the lawsuit, however, once the workers arrived in Indiana, they were housed in an overcrowded, substandard hotel. Furthermore, it contends, they were not paid for a couple of weeks and had no way to get food.
"These people were experienced farmworkers who know what to expect," Bridge said. "They know the standard practices and that they shouldn't have been treated that way."
The lawsuit also alleges that while in the fields, the migrant workers were not given the proper equipment, which caused most of them to receive blisters. The workers were also never paid for all of the wages promised to them.
"The conditions were so egregious that a group of the workers called Community Legal Services from a pay phone in Indiana," Bridge said. "I contacted attorneys for Monsanto at that time and informed them that not only were several of the workers unhappy, but at least one of the workers was injured."
Bridge said that after a couple of weeks, the workers returned to Arizona.
She explained that the federal Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act provides agricultural workers with certain protections concerning their wages, transportation and employment housing. For instance, an employer has to pay the wages promised to the workers and cannot change the terms and conditions of the working conditions.
"I'm glad they are speaking out," Bridge said. "Sometimes workers are afraid to speak up. For them to do it had to be really bad."
If the employer houses the workers, the housing has to comply with state and federal standards.
"Monsanto placed the workers in an overcrowded hotel in which the workers, including the 13-year-old, had to take turns sleeping on the floor," Bridge said. "We are concerned because we have sued Monsanto before for almost the exact same bad practices yet they continue to take advantage of our Arizona low-wage workers."
The workers are asking for statutory and compensatory damages under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act and the Arizona Wage Payment Act in addition to injunctive relief against Monsanto to prevent future violations.