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Civil Rights Commission Reaffirms Commitment to Minimum Wage Protection for Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers

Detroit — The Michigan Civil Rights Commission (the Commission) on Monday called on the state of Michigan to continue long-standing policy that provides minimum wage protection to migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Michigan and prohibits the use of illegal child labor on the state’s small farms.

“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.”

Michigan employs the largest number of migrant and seasonal farmworker 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 long been a leading voice for protecting the rights of Michigan’s migrant and seasonal farmworkers. 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 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?”

On November 17, 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.  LARA Wage and Hour agreed to accept comments from stakeholders on Wage-Hour Division’s intended course of action. MDCR submitted comments on Tuesday, November 22, which can be accessed here.

“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 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.


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