Michigan Civil Rights Commission Asks AG Nessel to Reconsider Schuette Ruling on Minimum Wage for Migrant Farmworkers

Contact: Vicki Levengood levengoodv@michigan.gov

Lansing, MI--The Michigan Civil Rights Commission (the Commission) today sent Attorney General Dana Nessel a request to reconsider a ruling from former Attorney General Bill Schuette that said certain migrant and seasonal farmworkers (MSFWs) are not entitled to minimum wage under state law.

The action comes after the Commission unanimously approved the request at their March 25 meeting in Clinton Twp. In considering Attorney General Opinion 7301, the Commission recognized that if the opinion stands, some MSFWs, paid on a per piece basis, would be negatively impacted and may not receive fair renumeration from Michigan employers.

“Migrant farmworkers work long hours under difficult conditions and earn every penny of a minimum-wage paycheck,” said Agustin Arbulu, Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. “State and federal law establishes their right to the minimum wage, and Michigan has a decade-long position that their wages are protected under law. It is important that the state stand by its longstanding position on pay for MSFWs, allowing them to make a fair, livable wage and to contribute to the vitality of Michigan’s agricultural economy. The law is clear and the former Attorney General was simply wrong in issuing AG Opinion 7301.”

In November of 2016, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) Wage and Hour Division announced their intention to eliminate state minimum wage protection for farmworkers on small farms and requested the AG to weigh in, which led to the issuance of AG Opinion 7301 in late 2017.

Michigan employs the largest number of MSFW families in the Midwest, with a population of more than 94,000 individuals, including more than 42,000 who are 19 years of age or younger.

The Commission has been a leading voice for protecting the rights of Michigan’s MSFWs. In 2009, the Commission launched an investigation into the working and living conditions of migrant farmworkers in the state. In March of 2010, the Commission released “A Report on the Conditions of Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers in Michigan” 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, and
  • Eliminating illegal use of child labor in agriculture.

“Denying the minimum wage to any group of workers has a profound impact on the wellbeing of workers including 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, Ohio, or any number of other states?”

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution to safeguard constitutional and legal guarantees against discrimination. The Commission is charged with investigating alleged discrimination against any person because of religion, race, color or national origin, sex, age, marital status, height, weight, arrest record, and physical and mental disability. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights serves as the operational arm of the Commission.

 

# # #