Would you head up to Indiana to work in the cornfields for Monsanto if they promised you free housing with kitchens and a fair wage? It doesn't sound so bad does it? But what if when you got there, your kitchen was an old school bus and you had to pay for the substandard housing?
This is the raw deal that workers from Hidalgo County allegedly got when they were approached by a recruiter who was finding workers for Monsanto's hybrid corn seed operation in Indiana. The recruiter from Milo Inc. allegedly promised seven Texan field workers free housing with kitchens, plenty of work, $80 an acre for detassling, and bonuses, according to Courthouse News Service. Now the workers have filed a lawsuit against Monsanto.
What do you do if you find yourself in this kind of situation?
As with all employment issues, first check for any written contract that you might have. Contracts usually provide for more than the law requires and thus would govern any employment agreement unless they are illegal for some reason.
Next, if you find that your contract has been breached by the employer, you can point out the deficiency to them and try to resolve the issue at that level. If that does not resolve the issue, then you can bring the contract to court to enforce the provisions that the employer is failing to uphold.
However, when oral contracts are concerned, it is far more difficult to prove what was promised, and you may need to fall back on the law.
Here, besides the claimed broken promises of Monsanto and its recruiter Milo Inc., there are allegations of failure to pay minimum wage and that the housing provided failed to meet federal and state safety levels.
Under the Federal Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), an employee cannot be paid less than the federal minimum wage for work done as long as the company does more than $500,000 in business in a year or meets other set criteria. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour.
Under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (“MSPA”), if a company controls housing given to migrant or seasonal workers, it must ensure that the housing meets federal and state safety and health standards. This law is sometimes referred to as the Agricultural Worker Protection Act or AWPA.
Here, if the worker’s claims are true, then Monsanto and Milo may have failed to provide the proper minimum wage because there is no wage exception for agricultural workers like there is for tipped employees. If the kitchen was an old school bus with a few stoves and a couple of refrigerators thrown in, it is likely that federal and state health codes have been violated.
The Monsanto lawsuit will at least put a spotlight on the difficult situation agricultural workers and employers have in trying to find one another. Hopefully there can be a better solution than old school buses.Related Resources:
- Searching for an Employment Lawyer in Houston? (FindLaw)
- Fair Wages FAQ (FindLaw)
- Passage of CARE Would Set New Rules For Young Farm Workers (FindLaw’s Houston Employment Law Blog)