Migrant workers sue Michigan farms, housing company

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Migrant workers from Texas are suing two Lenawee County farms, alleging the farms short-changed them on pay and created unsafe working conditions.

They're also suing the company the farms used to provide workers housing, saying they were forced to live in squalor.

The group of 11 workers is seeking back pay and damages for themselves and their 17 children, also plaintiffs in the suit.

It claims War-Ag Farms LLC and the Spud Factory LLC in Tecumseh cheated some of them out of their due pay and created unsafe working conditions in 2015 and 2016, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court's Eastern District of Michigan.

It also alleges Tipton-based D & D Warner Land LLC furnished workers with unsafe and unsanitary housing in a migrant camp. 

All three companies are managed by the same person, Dee Ann Warner. 

Warner did not return calls seeking comment.

According to the lawsuit, the companies recruited the workers and their family members in Texas for jobs harvesting and packaging vegetables and fresh produce in and around Washtenaw County in 2015 and 2016.

Seven of the plaintiffs worked for the companies in 2015. The next year, nine plaintiffs worked for the farms and brought their 17 children with them, the suit said. Four of the plaintiffs worked for the companies in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Company representatives promised payment of at least Michigan's minimum wage and of appropriate housing.

But workers weren't paid for all of the hours they worked and/or weren't paid the state minimum wage, the suit alleges.

The farms also created unsafe working conditions, the suit said. "Defendants failed to provide potable, cold, drinking water to each 2016 working plaintiff at the work site," according to the complaint. "Defendants permitted pesticides to be sprayed during working hours near workers, including each of the 2016 working plaintiffs."

Furthermore, the suit alleges, the companies put workers in substandard housing in a migrant camp. The suit said the state's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development inspected the camp, found 17 critical violations and refused to issue it an occupancy license.

The camp's units had mold and mildew, mattresses on the floor to sleep on, faulty wiring and stove fans that were in such poor condition that rust and chipped paint would fall into meals as they were being prepared, according to the lawsuit.