Lawsuit Against West Michigan Egg Farm and Labor Contractor Proceeds in Court
While COVID-19 has faded in urgency for many Michiganders, farmworkers are still fighting for justice after they were left unprotected and exposed to the virus in the early days of the pandemic. In March and April of 2020, as the virus was spreading in Michigan, essential workers Juana, Juan Carlos, and Margarita were hired to work at Sunrise Acres, a large egg producing and processing facility in Hudsonville, Michigan. They were hired by farm labor contractor C&C West Poultry operated by Armando and Joel Cardona Coronado. While working at Sunrise Acres they became infected with COVID-19 and fell seriously ill.
At a time when most Americans were heeding the guidance of public health professionals, C&C West Poultry and Sunrise Acres chose not to implement policies that would halt the spread of the highly contagious virus and safeguard their workforce from COVID-19. “We were practically working shoulder to shoulder because the lines are very tight,” said Juana. The management at Sunrise Acres put forth superficial policies with zero implementation, and failed to satisfy the duties to workers outlined by Governor Whitmer’s Executive Orders and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA). They did not provide personal protective equipment, claimed the company was implementing social distancing in workspaces where it was not physically possible, and took a lax approach to taking temperatures and monitoring symptoms of entering laborers. They failed to take meaningful precautions to protect the health and well-being of the workers who kept them in business during the pandemic.
Juana and Margarita bravely brought a lawsuit against C&C West Poultry and Sunrise Acres to hold them accountable for failing to protect their workers from contracting COVID-19. The workers are represented by the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, a nonprofit law center that advocates for the rights of immigrants and farmworkers. Sunrise Acres and Joel Cardona Coronado tried to have Juana, Margarita, and Juan Carlos’ claims dismissed in court, attempting to intimidate the workers and dissuade them from continuing with their case. Joel Cardona Coronado further tried and failed to convince the judge that he did not bear responsibility. Sunrise Acres and their president and owner William Patmos, sought to be dismissed from the case and the judge denied the motion. In an important victory for Juana, Juan Carlos, and Margarita, the Ottawa court decided the case will proceed. This sends an important message to unscrupulous and negligent contractors and employers who fail to protect the health and safety of essential immigrant workers.
“I felt like I was treated like I was disposable, working based on their necessity, not mine,” said Juana. Despite the dangerous conditions, she continued to work because “we all need to work and to take care of our needs, to take care of our family.”
“While this lawsuit started during the COVID-19 pandemic, really it brings to light a common theme we see among our clients,” said Gonzalo Peralta, the MIRC attorney representing the workers. “The health and welfare of farmworkers is too frequently not taken seriously by employers. No matter who you are or where you’re from, we all deserve safe and healthy workplaces. Workers should be able to count on their employers to take proper precautions to ensure their well-being. We are grateful to Juana, Margarita, and Juan Carlos for speaking up to ensure the rights of workers are protected.”
Workers who have questions about their rights can call MIRC’s free confidential Farmworker and Immigrant Worker hotline at 800-968-4046.
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. michiganimmigrant.org