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Michigan Farmworkers Sue Employer for Dangerous Pesticide Exposure

 

YPSILANTI, MI: On March 9, 2021, two seasonal farmworkers filed a class action lawsuit against their former employer Todd Greiner Farms Packing, LLC and Sarah Greiner for violations of federal and state workplace health and safety laws.

The Plaintiffs, along with 200 other workers, experienced adverse health effects due to widespread pesticide and chemical exposure and lack of sufficient bathrooms at the workplace in 2019. The workers are represented by attorneys at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) and the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice.

Farmworkers experience pesticide exposure not only in the fields, but also during the indoor processing of seasonal crops like asparagus. Every year Michigan's asparagus packing season takes place from May through the end of June. Workers endure 12-hour shifts, 6-7 days per week, sorting, trimming, and packing asparagus in enclosed warehouses with little ventilation so that consumers can enjoy this seasonal delight sold at local and national grocery store chains. The asparagus are cleaned with chemically treated water that runs through pipes in the packing warehouse. 

In 2019, Plaintiffs Maria Valenzuela and Obdulia Rodriguez complained to their supervisors at Todd Greiner Farms Packing, LLC about the overpowering chlorine smell that permeated the packing warehouse where they and approximately 200 other farmworkers worked. The company and its owners and supervisors ignored the workers’ complaints regarding their symptoms, which included headaches, dizziness, itchy throats, stinging and watery eyes, and for Plaintiff Rodriguez, loss of consciousness requiring emergency medical care.

Allegedly, the Plaintiffs and other workers were exposed to several chemicals including Chlor-Clean 12.5 and Madisan 75 Quaternary Ammonium Chloride, both registered pesticides with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The company and its owners allegedly failed to give Plaintiffs and other workers information regarding the chemicals being used to wash the asparagus they were trimming and sorting every day. The company also did not provide any training to workers on how to avoid exposure to the known pesticides used to clean the asparagus they were handling and did not provide them with appropriate equipment to protect themselves from exposure to these chemicals. Workers suffered chemical exposure for the entire six-week season in 2019.

In July 2019, the Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration (MIOSHA) cited the company for four serious violations of Michigan and federal workplace health and safety laws including “failing to have a written hazard communication program, safety data sheets for all hazardous chemicals, and not providing employees with information or training regarding the hazardous chemicals”, as well as for not having a sufficient number of bathrooms.

Two workers, Maria Valenzuela and Obdulia Rodriguez, came forward to share their experiences to ensure employers like Todd Greiner Farms are held accountable for endangering the health and safety of their employees. “We are filing this lawsuit because the chemicals and pesticides that the company used in 2019 affected my health and those of my colleagues too much,” said Maria.

“Workers like me run many risks working in these conditions, exposed to chemicals that affect our health. The Greiner company knew how workers suffered every day in 2019 but they did not care about the health of us workers. Many remain silent out of fear and because they need the job. With this complaint we want justice and that the company and owners of Greiner take responsibility for what happened in 2019 and ensure that it does not happen again."

“Pesticide exposure continues to be a major health risk for farm workers, whether they are working in the fields or the packing warehouses processing the fruits and vegetables we enjoy every day,” said Diana Marin, Supervising Attorney at MIRC. “Violations of basic workplace health and safety standards and pesticide exposure is unfortunately too common in the agricultural industry and workers who speak up are often silenced or ignored. Maria and Obdulia have courageously come forward to give voice to the many workers affected by the 2019 widespread chemical and pesticide exposure at Todd Greiner Farms.”   

"The company failed to notify, inform, or protect essential workers from exposure to dangerous pesticides and then blamed the workers for the symptoms that they experienced, “ noted John Philo, Executive Director & Legal Director at Sugar Law Center. “In this case, the employer shirked their responsibilities to their employees and seeks to evade accountability to the persons that they harmed." 

Workers who have questions about their rights can call MIRC's free confidential Farmworker and Immigrant Worker hotline at 800-968-4046.

 

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2021 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 03/16/21 16:52:49 -0800.

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