Apr 16, 2019
Michigan Civil Rights Commission seeks reversal of migrant worker ruling

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) on April 15 sent Attorney General Dana Nessel a request to reconsider a ruling from former Attorney General Bill Schuette that said certain migrant and seasonal farm workers (MSFWs) are not entitled to minimum wage under state law.

MCRC unanimously passed five motions designed to improve support and protections for migrant and seasonal farmworkers (MSFWs) working and living in Michigan. The actions occurred during the Commission’s meeting at Macomb Community College at it March 21 meeting.

The commission received an update on the progress of 15 recommendations made in 2010 by the Interagency Migrant Services Committee (IMSC) and approved a motion acknowledging “significant progress” on the items, but also recognizes continuing barriers for MSFWs in Michigan. The Commission also authorized the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) to continue working with the IMSC on addressing the 15 recommendations.

In addition, MCRC adopted a motion reconfirming the body’s commitment to fair housing opportunities for the MSFWs in Michigan with a focus on preventing restrictive zoning ordinances and laws, which could violate Michigan’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act by discriminating based on marital status, gender and age.

In another 7-0 vote, MCRC approved updating the state’s 2013 enumeration study of MSFWs and committed $75,000 to this study. The motion also included a request that other state agencies contribute a similar amount for the updating of the enumeration study. The study helps the state understand the trends in agriculture and MSFWs and its needs within the state. In turn, the results help direct resources to supporting this community and the agricultural sector.

The MCRC approved a request to Attorney General Dana Nessel to reconsider Attorney General Opinion 7301. This opinion, issued by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, ruled that certain MSFWs are not be entitled to minimum wage under the state’s laws. The MCRC recognized that some migrant workers, paid on a per piece structure, could be negatively impacted and ultimately may not see any renumeration from an agricultural employer if the opinion stands.

MCRC also approved a motion requesting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer move the State Monitor Advocate (SMA) from the Talent and Investment Agency to MDCR. Concern over the effectiveness and efficiency in monitoring concerns and complaints raised by MSFWs was raised and noted that the continued diminished role of SMA was not acceptable.

“All five of these actions today send an important and significant message to migrant and seasonal farmworkers (MSFWs) that they are valued and welcomed in Michigan,” said Agustin V. Arbulu, director of MDCR, following the March 21 meeting. “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.”

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the operational arm of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, is charged with investigating and resolving discrimination complaints and works to prevent discrimination through educational programs that promote voluntary compliance with civil rights laws. The Department also provides information and services to businesses on diversity initiatives and equal employment law. For more information on the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, go to www.Michigan.gov/mdcr.


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