The Michigan Civil Rights Commission says the state is wrong to eliminate minimum wage protection for workers on some small farms.
According to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs' Wage and Hour Division, small farms with fewer than 500 man-days in any quarter of the previous year are exempt from paying the minimum wage. A "man-day" means any day during which an employee works at least one hour.
"We received an informal attorney general opinion, and we determined that we had been previously misinterpreting jurisdiction," said Jennifer Fields, manager of LARA's Wage and Hour Division.
"At LARA, we have to administer the law as it's written," Fields said. "We are currently working together with the stakeholders, which include the agricultural community and worker groups, to make sure that we're all interpreting it the same. But if people don't agree with the interpretation, they would have to work with their lawmakers to make amendments to the statute."
Augustin Arbulu, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said LARA's new interpretation is incorrect and reverses Michigan's decade-long position that these workers are covered by minimum wage protection.
"They labor long hours under challenging conditions and trying to earn just a minimum wage paycheck," said Arbulu. "And now without it, they won't even have that protection."
Neither Arbulu nor Fields knew how many farms or farm workers are no longer covered by minimum wage requirements as a result of the new interpretation.