McALLEN, Texas (CN) - Monsanto promised seven Texas field workers and their children free housing with kitchens in Indiana, then charged them $300 a room, exposed them to pesticides and underpaid them, the men claim in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiff Jose Cardenas sued Monsanto, its recruiter Milo Inc. and Milo Inc.'s president Hermilo Cantu Jr.
Cardenas claims that Milo recruited the workers in the spring of 2010 in Hidalgo County, Texas to work at Monsanto's hybrid corn seed operation in Indiana, roguing, detasseling, husking and sorting corn.
The recruiter told them there would be plenty of work; they would be paid $80 per acre for detasseling; a bonus for roguing and detasseling; and free housing with kitchens, but it wasn't like that, the men say.
Rather than pay the promised $80 per acre, Monsanto paid a piece rate that "when divided among crew members was less than minimum wage," the complaint states.
The housing was substandard, the workers say: "The motel housing did not comply with substantive federal and state safety and health standards applicable to agricultural labor housing because, inter alia, the kitchen facility provided by the defendants - a school bus in which about three to four stoves and two refrigerators had been installed - was substandard."
The workers say the bus did not have enough stoves for the number of laborers in the camp, lacked adequate sinks with hot and cold water, did not have sufficient lighting and ventilation or enough chairs and tables.
Adding to their misery, the workers say, "Two or more of the working plaintiffs suffered illness or injuries from suspected pesticide exposure while working for defendants."
They say the detasseling ended in August 2010 and Monsanto moved them to a converted nursing home in Oxford, Ind., and had them husk and sort corn.
"Although at the time of recruitment defendants told plaintiffs that housing would be free, and defendants did not disclose to plaintiffs in writing any charge for housing, defendants Cantu and Milo Inc. charged plaintiffs three hundred dollars ($300) per room to stay in the reputed former nursing home while working for defendants in husking and sorting seed corn," the complaint states.
The workers seek damages under the Agricultural Worker Protection Act, and unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
They are represented by Kathryn Blair Craddock with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.