Southeast Area Farmers Market begins July 9

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at MLK Jr Park, 900 Fuller SE 49506. Click here for more information.


Grand Rapids Public Library will share its Mobile Library, giveaways, information about services, resources and programs, library cards sign-ups, stories and crafts.

Michigan League of Conservation Voters will share information on how to use your vote to promote environmental justice.

Molina Healthcare will share information and resources.

Michigan Egg Producer Pays Settlement to Farmworker Survivor of Sexual Assault

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

Reported by MIRC

Michigan egg producer Konos, Inc. (Konos) has paid a major financial settlement to compensate “Jane Doe,” a client of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), ending a sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the Western District of Michigan. MIRC’s client was allowed by the court to maintain anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the events at issue in the case. As a condition of settlement, Konos also entered into a consent decree with the EEOC for three years, requiring them to train their workforce and management on sexual harassment, post notices for all employees at their egg processing plants on the existence of the case and the right to a sexual harassment-free workplace, and self-report sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC.   

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center represented the female farmworker who intervened to join the lawsuit and added two individual Defendants and state law claims under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. 

MIRC’s client suffered repeated sexual advances by her male supervisor which escalated to sexual assault. When MIRC’s client went to Konos management to complain, instead of taking any steps to protect her, they sent her home. The male supervisor was eventually criminally prosecuted and convicted of the charges. Konos employed their corporate attorney to represent the male supervisor in criminal court while continuing to represent Konos during the EEOC investigation and the civil litigation. During both the criminal and civil proceedings, Konos’ attorney attempted to use Jane Doe’s immigration status against her and as a defense against the company’s liability but was unsuccessful in deterring Jane Doe from seeking justice. 

“Sexual harassment and assault in agriculture is a pervasive and invisible problem with many immigrant survivors too scared to come forward and report due to concerns about immigration status being used against them,” said MIRC supervising attorney Diana Marin. “The weaponizing of immigration status by employers and defense counsel against our immigrant communities must end. It took incredible courage for our client to not only report the abuse, but also to see through a protracted legal battle against a multi-million dollar egg producer. We hope this case sends the message that sexual harassment and assault will not be tolerated and there are recourses for immigrant survivors who work in agriculture and experience harassment in the workplace.”  

For more information on sexual harassment, visit https://www.eeoc.gov/sexual-harassment

For more information on retaliation, visit https://www.eeoc.gov/retaliation.

Survivors of sexual assault and abuse can call the State of Michigan’s free and confidential 24/7 hotline at 855-VOICES4 or by texting 866-238-1454.

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

Free MSUE online classes on preserving fruits and veggies

Southeast Area Farmers Market opens in a couple week! If you learn how to can and freeze the fresh Michigan produce you buy there, you can feed your family good food all year ’round. Tonight’s class highlight African American Cuisine. On June 23, learn how to make jams and jellies. And on July 7, learn how to can. Click here for information and registration.

Did you miss Chef Jermond’s June 4 cooking class?

If you missed our June Educate to Elevate virtual Cook, Eat & Talk, here is Chef Jermond’s June recipe for Cast Iron Zucchini Rolls below. See you in July!

A native of Little Rock Arkansas, Chef Jermond has worked in more than a dozen restaurants in several positions. Next September, his pizza restaurant will open in the new Allied Media headquarters in Detroit’s Love Building. He also works as a grocery and retail consultant with his latest project, Seasons Market & Cafe, which recently opened in Midtown Detroit. He also serves as a classroom facilitator for the Detroit Food Academy, teaching middle and high school students basic culinary art skills. Lastly, Jermond is one of three the founders of Taste the Diaspora Detroit.

OKT’s Program for Growth is back twice as strong

New food gardens at Kentwood Public Schools Glenwood Elementary School
Our Kitchen Table has launched its Program for Growth at two schools this spring. We will again be growing food with parents, caregivers, and students at Grand Rapids Public Schools Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy. And, we will be adding a new school — Kentwood Public Schools Glenwood Elementary School.
In addition to procuring organic foodplants from Blandford Farm, our food gardens will also be planted with home-grown starters from H.O.P.E. Gardens. H.O.P.E. Gardens provides programs for students in grades K-12, including garden education during school and as part of after-school and summer programs. Students grow food on school grounds, integrate garden activities into their curricula, and save and share seeds with community.

Michigan Farmworkers sue Mastronardi Produce for pesticide exposure and wage theft

This just in from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) 

Lawsuit calls attention to abuses and unsafe working conditions faced by farmworkers at Michigan mega greenhouse

On June 1, 2022, three farm workers filed a class action lawsuit against their former employers, Mastronardi Produce-USA, Inc. and Maroa Farms, Inc. for violations of federal law relating to harmful pesticide exposure, and a deceptive bonus structure. Plaintiffs Benjamin Lopez, Oscar Carlos Lopez Ramirez, and Ramona Reyes Saucedo, along with their coworkers, were exposed to dangerous pesticides while working in Mastronardi’s two million square foot greenhouses in Coldwater, Michigan.

The Plaintiffs and their co-workers were repeatedly exposed to Virocid, Virkon S, and Sodium Hypochlorite 12.5% – disinfectants regulated as pesticides by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – without proper training, proper personal protective equipment, or access to information about the pesticides being used. Plaintiffs and their co-workers experienced ongoing medical issues including daily nose bleeds, headaches, burning eyes, and skin rashes. Mastronardi management repeatedly dismissed their symptoms and requests for protection.

In addition, Mastronardi failed to pay Plaintiffs the promised bonus for meeting production standards by continually increasing the amount of work that had to be completed to receive a bonus, changing how bonuses were calculated, and undercounting their work. Mastronardi also misclassified Ms. Reyes Saucedo as an agricultural worker and failed to pay her overtime wages when she was employed as a janitor cleaning bathrooms, lunchrooms, and migrant housing.

The workers are represented by the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), a nonprofit legal resource center for immigrants and farmworkers in Michigan, and Farmworker Justice, a national nonprofit farmworker advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

“Pesticide exposure continues to be a serious health and safety risk for our nation’s farmworkers who help bring food to our tables, regardless of whether they perform their work in a field or a greenhouse,” said Anna Hill Galendez, an attorney with MIRC. “Despite the known risks of pesticide exposure, cases involving serious injury and illness to farmworkers as a result of pesticide exposure are all too common, and workers who speak up face the very real risk of retaliation by their employer. Our plaintiffs have demonstrated tremendous courage in coming forward and disclosing to the public the horribly unsafe and unjust working conditions at Mastronardi.”

“Although the practice of wage theft is unfortunately quite common in low-wage industries such as agriculture, it is especially disheartening to witness it in this context, where hundreds of migrant workers traveled long distances to Coldwater based upon Mastronardi’s promise that they would be able to earn a living wage, only to find out that Mastronardi’s guarantees were nothing more than an empty promise,“ said Trent Taylor, staff attorney for Farmworker Justice.

The workers’ complaints fit with a pattern of concerns at Mastronardi facilities in the U.S. According to news reports, Mastronardi facilities in several states have received fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Labor (DOL). Mastronardi has received multiple citations for workplace hazards at a warehouse in Livonia, and the company was previously fined by DOL for wage violations at Maroa Farms. In 2021 a Maine greenhouse owned by Mastronardi was ordered to pay wages and penalties to workers, and in 2020 COVID-19 outbreaks occurred in Mastronardi greenhouses in New York and Michigan.

“Farmworkers, like all workers, deserve safe and healthy workplaces,” said Anna Hill Galendez. “We hope that this lawsuit calls attention to the tremendous abuses that many farmworkers experience and will force Mastronardi to reform its policies and comply with the law.”

“We come to work. They should treat us well. We do our work so that the company can make money. The company should take care of its workers,” said Benjamin Lopez, migrant farmworker and a named Plaintiff.

“Workers also have rights,” said Ramona Reyes Saucedo, one of the named Plaintiffs. “Maroa should treat their employees with dignity and respect and take the proper safety measures to make sure the chemicals and pesticides used don’t harm the employees’ health. My health was affected a lot, my nose bled frequently, and it was difficult for me to breathe without pain or a burning sensation in my chest.”

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

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Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) is a statewide legal resource center for Michigan’s immigrant communities that works to build a thriving Michigan where immigrant communities experience equity and belonging. MIRC’s work is rooted in three pillars: direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community engagement and education. MIRC’s Farmworker and Immigrant Worker Rights practice focuses on representing farmworkers with their employment and civil rights matters and specializes in cases at the intersection of workplace and immigrant rights. 

Farmworker Justice (Justicia Campesina) is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice. The organization is based in Washington, D.C. and works with farmworkers and their organizations throughout the nation. farmworkerjustice.org

Dr. Beverly Wright: Race, Place and Climate Action

Dr. Beverly Wright, award-winning environmental justice scholar, advocate, author, and founding executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, presented at The Wege Foundation 25th Annual Speaker series on May 26, 2022 on “Race, Place and Climate Action.” You can watch the video below.

$30/month internet subsidy now available

APPLY HERE for AFFORDABLECONNECTIVITY.GOV

Or, go to GETINTERNET.GOV to learn more.

The announcement of partnerships with internet providers plus a $30/month subsidy for high-speed internet makes it free, or nearly free, for a large portion of Michigan families. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a U.S. government program run by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help low-income households pay for internet service and connected devices like a laptop or tablet.

You are likely eligible for the ACP if your household’s income is below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line, or if you or someone you live with currently receives a government benefit like SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, WIC, Pell Grant, or Free and Reduced-Price Lunch. If your household is eligible, you could receive:

  • Up to a $30/month discount on your internet service
  • Up to a $75/month discount if your household is on qualifying Tribal lands
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50)
  • A low cost service plan that may be fully covered through the ACP

Today, several internet providers, including AT&T, Charter-Spectrum, Comcast-Xfinity, Frontier, WOW!, Verizon, and more, have announced high-speed internet plans for $30/month or less. If you apply your ACP benefit to one of these plans, you will have no out-of-pocket cost for your household internet.

APPLY HERE for AFFORDABLECONNECTIVITY.GOV

Or, go to GETINTERNET.GOV to learn more.

Wege Speaker Series: Virtual lecture by Dr. Beverly Bright

The Wege Foundation presents its 25th Annual Speaker on May 26, 2022. This year’s lecturer will be Dr. Beverly Wright, award-winning environmental justice scholar, advocate, author, civic leader and professor. She is the founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans. 

As a child growing up in southern Louisiana, Dr. Wright’s understanding of environmentally compromised communities was close to home. She lived along the highly polluted 85-mile stretch of land between Baton Rouge and New Orleans known as ”cancer alley.” These childhood experiences shaped her eventual career choices in research and activism.

Please register by May 25, 2022 at: wegespeaker2022.eventbrite.com

Founding Partner: 

  • Wege Foundation

Partners:

  • City of Grand Rapids
  • Michigan Black Expo
  • U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan
  • Urban Core Collective