Former Mastronardi employees file lawsuit over health and wage issues

·2 min read

Three former Coldwater's Maroa Farms greenhouse employees filed a federal class-action lawsuit Wednesday alleging violations of federal law relating to harmful pesticide exposure and a deceptive bonus structure.

Plaintiffs Benjamin Lopez, Oscar Carlos Lopez Ramirez and Ramona Reyes Saucedo claim that their coworkers were exposed to pesticides while working in Mastronardi Produce-USA, Inc.'s 35-acre enclosed greenhouse.

Filed in the U.S. District Court in Western Michigan, the suit claims workers were repeatedly exposed to Virocid, Virkon S, and Sodium Hypochlorite 12.5%. 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 information about the pesticides, the plaintiffs claim they and others suffered daily nose bleeds, headaches, burning eyes and skin rashes. The suit said Mastronardi management repeatedly ignored their symptoms and requests for protection.

In a press release, Anna Hill Galendez, an attorney with Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, a legal resource for Michigan immigrant communities, said, "Despite the known risks of pesticide exposure, cases involving serious injury and illness to farm workers as a result of pesticide exposure are all too common, and workers who speak up face the very real risk of retaliation by their employer."

The suit alleges 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. It said Mastronardi changed how bonuses were calculated and undercounted their work. Lawyers indicated the company withheld bonuses for months.

Reyes Saucedo said she was classified as an agricultural worker. But the company failed to pay her overtime wages when she worked as a janitor cleaning bathrooms, lunchrooms and migrant housing next to the greenhouse.

Reyes Saucedo is the only Michigan resident who 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 in Coldwater from November 2019 to June 2020 and returned from September 2020 to June 2021.

"Hundreds of migrant workers traveled long distances to Coldwater based upon Mastronardi's promise that they would be able to earn a living wage, only to find out that Mastronardi's guarantees were nothing more than an empty promise," said Trent Taylor, staff attorney for Farmworker Justice, a national organization also assisting on the suit.

Mastronardi declined to comment on the suit.

The Coldwater operation faced prior violations from the Labor Department in 2013. It paid a $166,000 penalty for wage violations.

Maroa Farms is one of two 35-acre greenhouses owned by Mastronardi in Coldwater.
Maroa Farms is one of two 35-acre greenhouses owned by Mastronardi in Coldwater.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Reporter: Mastronardi sued over wage and health issues