The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is asking Attorney General Dana Nessel to reconsider whether Michigan’s smallest farms can legally pay migrant farm workers less than minimum wage. A 2016 state interpretation asserted that some small farms do not have to pay it, because they are exempt from federal minimum wage law.
Michigan Department of Civil Rights Director Agustin Arbulu warned last year that the ruling could have a “chilling” effect on farms already struggling to find seasonal laborers amid concern that increased federal immigration enforcement may scare off migrant farm workers.
Arbulu has stated: “The actions by the Commission will help us continue to focus our work on protecting some of the most vulnerable people providing incredibly important work for our agricultural economy.”
Michigan Immigrant Rights Managing Attorney Susan Reed said she hopes the attorney general overturns the 2016 state interpretation: “… We think it’s urgent that the issue be revisited because we’re talking about some of the state and country and the world’s most vulnerable workers — left with no protection by the state’s prior interpretation.”
Reed and migrant labor lawyers and state officials have said it’s impossible to estimate how many small farms the opinion may apply to because of the unfixed nature of seasonal work and the complicated metrics that the federal government uses to determine which farms are exempt from federal minimum wage.