Mastronardi sued over salary and health issues

Three former employees of Coldwater’s Maroa Farms greenhouse filed a federal class action lawsuit Wednesday alleging violations of federal law relating to exposure to harmful pesticides and a misleading bonus structure.

Plaintiffs Benjamin Lopez, Oscar Carlos Lopez Ramirez and Ramona Reyes Saucedo allege their co-workers were exposed to pesticides while working in the 35-acre enclosed greenhouse of Mastronardi Produce-USA, Inc.

Filed in the US District Court for Western Michigan, the lawsuit claims the workers were repeatedly exposed to Virocid, Virkon S and 12.5% ​​sodium hypochlorite. All three are disinfectants used in the hydroponic produce farm and regulated as pesticides by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Without proper training, proper personal protective equipment or access to pesticide information, plaintiffs say they and others suffered daily nosebleeds, headaches, burning eyes and skin rashes. The lawsuit said Mastronardi’s management repeatedly ignored their symptoms and pleas for protection.

In a press release, Anna Hill Galendez, an attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, a legal resource for Michigan’s immigrant communities, said, “Despite the known risks of pesticide exposure, cases involving injuries and Serious illnesses in agricultural workers as a result of pesticide exposure are all too common and workers who speak out face a very real risk of retaliation from their employer.”

The lawsuit alleges that Mastronardi failed to pay the plaintiffs’ promised bonus for meeting production standards by continually increasing the amount of work that had to be completed to receive a bonus. He said Mastronardi changed the way bonuses were calculated and underestimated their work. Lawyers said the company withheld bonuses for months.

Reyes Saucedo said she was classified as a farm worker. But the company did not pay her overtime when she worked as a janitor cleaning bathrooms, dining rooms and migrant accommodation next to the greenhouse.

Reyes Saucedo is the only Michigan resident to have worked at the greenhouse from 2014 to August 2021.

Benjamin Lopez lives in Georgia. He worked at the greenhouse from August 2020 to February 2021.

Lopez Ramirez lives in Mexico. He worked at Coldwater from November 2019 to June 2020 and returned from September 2020 to June 2021.

“Hundreds of migrant workers traveled long distances to Coldwater on Mastronardi’s promise that they could earn a living wage, only to find that Mastronardi’s guarantees were nothing more than an empty promise. “said Farmworker Justice staff attorney Trent Taylor. , a national organization that is also involved in the lawsuit.

Mastronardi declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Coldwater operation was previously the victim of violations by the Department of Labor in 2013. It paid a $166,000 fine for a wage violation.

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