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Civil Rights Commission reaffirms commitment to protect wages of migrant, seasonal farmworkers

Posted at 1:50 PM, Dec 06, 2016

Michigan employs the largest number of migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Midwest, and the Civil Rights Commission is urging the state to continue to provide minimum wage protection for small farm workers.

There are more than 94,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Michigan, and according to the Civil Rights Commission, workers on small farms could lose their minimum wage protection.

“Migrant farmworkers labor long hours under challenging conditions, earning every penny of a minimum-wage paycheck,” said Agustin Arbulu, Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. “Their work is worth the minimum wage, and state and federal law establishes their right to the minimum wage. It is important that the state of Michigan stand by its decade-long position that these wages are protected under law, allowing farmworkers to support their families and contribute to a strong agricultural economy.”

According to a press release from the Civil Rights Commission, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ Wage and Hour Division announced their intention to eliminate state minimum wage protection for farmworkers on small farms.

“Thousands of farmworker families will decide early next year where they will travel for work in 2017. And now, right in the middle of the holiday season, they’re learning their wages may be lower if they return to work in Michigan,” said Arbulu. “It is vital that the state reaffirm, as has this Commission, that the law protects a farmworker’s right to the minimum wage, and that it does so as soon as possible.”

The release states that the Civil Rights Commission has long been a leading voice for protecting the rights of Michigan’s migrant and seasonal farmworkers, and in 2009 the commission launched an investigation into the working and living conditions of migrant farmworkers in the state. In 2010, they released a report with a list of recommendations including:

•          Providing a minimum wage for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Michigan
•          Improving the living and working conditions of migrant farmworkers
•          Eliminating illegal use of child labor in agriculture

“Denying the minimum wage to these workers will have a profound impact on the wellbeing of farmworker families, and will hurt Michigan growers,” said Arbulu. “Why would a farmworker choose to work for less in Michigan when they can make more in California, in Ohio, or almost any other state?”