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Seed company sued over wages, living conditions for Michigan migrant workers in 2012

CASSOPOLIS, Mich. - A major seed company is being sued by 32 migrant farm workers and seven of their children over the workers' claims that they were underpaid and experienced unsafe conditions and poor housing while removing tassels from corn in southwestern Michigan.

The workers are mostly from Texas and were hired in 2012 to work in Cass County. Detasseling is hot, labour-intensive work that occurs while the corn still is in the ground.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Grand Rapids, accuses Johnston, Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer and two recruiters of violating federal wage and migrant labour laws. The allegations include poor housing, unsafe transportation to the fields and inadequate water.

The suit said that the defendants housed the workers and their families "in mobile trailers and a renovated farm building, which failed to comply with state and federal health and safety requirements."

It said the defendants also violated their rights by "providing false and misleading information at the time of recruitment regarding the terms and conditions of employment; failing to provide potable water, toilets and hand-washing facilities for plaintiffs while they worked in the fields; and failing to pay plaintiffs for all the hours of work performed."

DuPont Pioneer was formerly called Pioneer Hi-Bred and is part of Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont Co.

The seed company said the claims were untrue.

It said it "denies that the housing facilities failed to comply with state and federal health and safety requirements, given that the facilities were inspected and approved by the Michigan Department of Agriculture."

The company also denied that it "provided false and misleading information to plaintiffs concerning the terms, conditions or existence of agricultural employment when recruiting and offering plaintiffs employment."

On the availability of drinking water on the job, the company denied the claim but acknowledged "that on some occasions cups were not immediately available."

A court filing last week said all parties "remain open" to a settlement. Attorneys for both sides said they "believe that all discovery proceedings can be completed by June 30, 2015."

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