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Texas migrant workers allege mistreatment by agribusiness giant

According to a group of Texas migrant workers, the Monsanto Company, a leader in agribusiness, paid the workers substandard wages and did not follow through with promises they had made. The workers have filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging violations of their employee rights.

Among their complaints, the workers claim Monsanto violated the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. Both statutes are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. The FLSA governs standards for minimum wage, overtime compensation and the recordkeeping of hours worked. The MSPA requires that agricultural employers provide workers with a written disclosure of the terms of their employment, pay fair wages on a regular basis and arrange for safe housing.

Apparently, Monsanto, through a business partner, hired the migrant workers in 2010 to work in Monsanto's hybrid seed corn division. As part of their job description, the workers were to travel to Iowa and Indiana where they would be responsible for a number of agricultural duties.

The workers allege Monsanto orally agreed to pay them $80 per acre for corn detasseling, a variety of labor bonuses and to provide them with free housing. They were also guaranteed four months of work. A representative for Monsanto stated that the company is committed to fair treatment of its seasonal workers, which includes pay and benefits that exceed what is statutorily required.

Instead, the workers were paid less than $80 per acre at a rate below minimum wage and were given only one month of employment. They were not paid for travel time, nor for all of the hours that they worked. The promised bonuses were given to only some of the workers. And the housing turned out to be a former nursing home for which the workers were charged $300 per month. Their only access to food preparation space was a school bus with stoves and refrigerators in poor condition.

Employees that face this degree of unfair labor practices may consider talking to an employment law attorney. Legal counsel is beneficial to protect worker's rights during the investigation and trial process.

Source: The Monitor, "In Monsanto lawsuit, migrant workers claim unfair wages and substandard housing," Ildefonso Ortiz, July 28, 2012

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