Mich. Migrant Workers File Class Action Against Produce Co. After Exposure to Dangerous Pesticides

On Wednesday, migrant workers Benjamin Lopez, Oscar Carlos Lopez Ramirez, and Ramona Reyes Saucedo filed a class action complaint in the Western District of Michigan against Mastronardi Produce-USA Inc. and Maroa Farms, Inc. for allegedly violating worker safety laws by exposing them to harmful pesticides, as well as failure to pay overtime wages.

The defendants own and operate the Coldwater greenhouse, where the plaintiffs previously worked cultivating Mastronardi’s crops. According to the complaint, the defendants controlled the environment inside of the facility strictly including “the temperature, humidity, light, and air quality,” when the plaintiffs could enter the facility, what clothes they wore, production numbers for each employee, which pesticides were used, and maintaining the protective equipment given to workers according to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). 

In late 2020, the defendants supposedly started fingerprinting workers and requesting them to spray pesticide more frequently to stop the breakout of a tomato virus. The complaint said they used Virkon S, which “can cause serious eye damages, skin irritation and respiratory irritation” and requires extra protective gear to keep workers safe. As the spraying of pesticides continued, workers were allegedly not given face shields, masks and protective garments to prevent Virkon S from getting onto their skin, and the facility was not properly aerated.

One plaintiff claimed that they were told “to remove the label from Virkon S and replace it with a different product because food safety inspectors were coming and they did not want them to see the Virkon label.” The workers eventually suffered massive headaches, nosebleeds and other injuries as a result, according to the complaint.

The putative class is suing on the counts of violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, FIFRA Worker Protection Standards, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act, Fair Labor Standard Act, Improved Workforce Opportunity Wage Act; breach of contract; and unjust enrichment.

The plaintiffs are seeking class certification, declaratory relief, statutory damages, actual damages, punitive damages, liquidated damages, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief.

The plaintiffs are represented by Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and Farmworker Justice