20525877_1344883558962780_2259528948883654991_nThe Latino Community Coalition (LCC) has expressed serious concerns regarding the Kent County Commission’s decision not to provide interpretation and translation services for all public comments made in languages besides English at public commission meetings.

During their April 25th session, the Kent County Commission made changes to their rules which were clearly in response to the actions of Movimiento Cosecha GR, an immigrant rights movement who held multiple demonstrations at their commission meetings. Among those changes was the requirement that commissioners remain seated and not join the public or sit with them, or use the microphone designated for public use to make comments. Most alarming was the commission’s vote to leave the decision to translate public comments made in other languages to the discretion of the current commission chairperson.

Commissioner Jim Talen made a motion to change the policy language to require that all public comments be translated and not at the discretion of the board chair, but the commission discussed this option and ultimately voted against it. Although the board chair expressed her intention to grant all requests for translation of statements made in other languages, her comments during the discussion and subsequent vote against putting that intent in writing is a complete contradiction. This decision is a clear attempt by the commission to silence county residents from immigrant communities, and to reserve the right to continue to do so as they see fit. The option to create barriers for any residents to be heard should never be available to a publicly elected decision-making body.

During the course of the discussion, Commissioner Jim Saalfeld objected to the cost of interpretation and translation, saying that doing so was an option to save money because “There may be times where there are things that are not consequential to what’s being presented.” Commissioner Tom Antor stated, “Since all of us, I think, speak English in this room, I think it’s reasonable that they have someone that could help them with, you know, translating for them if need be.” Comments like these are extremely offensive.

The LCC urges the community to contact their county commissioner to demand that they open up the conversation for an amendment requiring all public comments made in other languages be translated into English so that they may be reflected in the public record and so that commissioners are able to understand all resident comments. The county commission does not have to wait two years to make the changes. The LCC also invites concerned community members to attend the upcoming Kent County Commission meeting on Thursday, May 23 at 8:30 a.m. in the County Administration Building at 300 Monroe Ave or subsequent meetings which are held at the same time and place every other Thursday.

Finally, the LCC thanks the 7 commissioners who spoke up for the right of all county residents to be heard, regardless of the language that they speak. Residents can view news coverage here, and a video of the conversation here.  LCC invites you to contact your commissioner (click here to see a map if you aren’t sure who your commissioner is).

Sign the letter today! Protect Michigan Farmworker Minimum Wage

Sign it here! Deadline May 15.NINO

The right to a minimum wage is one of the most basic and fundamental protections a worker can count on in the workplace. Agricultural workers are among the most vulnerable and often-exploited workers, doing one of the most dangerous, and essential jobs, in today’s economy. Michigan’s Wage and Hour laws are meant to offer stateside protection to workers where the federal government will not. Until very recently, this included agricultural workers on Michigan’s small farms. However, on December 19, 2017, then-Attorney General Bill Schuette changed that.

AG Opinion #7301, reinterprets a part of Michigan’s minimum wage laws (known as the Workforce Opportunity Wage Act (WOWA)) as excluding workers on Michigan’s small farms from minimum wage protections. In his opinion, the former Attorney General concluded, “This construction of subsection 10(1)(b) has the effect of leaving some employees without a right to a minimum hourly wage under the WOWA (or the FLSA).” The interpretation reversed a decade-long understanding, one confirmed by the legislative history surrounding the section’s passage, that this subsection offered minimum wage protection to all workers, including those on small farms.

While the former Attorney General did not change his position, there’s a new AG in charge. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights, at the direction of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, has asked Attorney General Dana Nessel to reconsider AG #7301.

UPDATE: Attorney General Dana Nessel has accepted this request and asks for public comments through mid-May as she prepares to make a decision. Support this request by signing your organization, your business, your church or faith community, or just yourself to this letter. The signature period closes on Wednesday, May 15.

Women of Color Convening Series: May 16, wsg Remi Harrington

WOC May 16 2019 Twitter Image“Building collective consciousness about what local foods can mean to us as a people”

 OKT and co-sponsor, Access of West Michigan, are excited to bring activist, farmer and educator, Remi Harrington, to Grand Rapids as part of OKT’s 2019 Women of Color Convening series. The FREE event takes place May 16  at Sherman Street Church, lower level, from 6 to 8 p.m. The event will kick-off with a food demo and sampling featuring bulk whole foods from OKT’s Collective Whole Foods Purchasing Group.

In Kalamazoo, Harrington grows food at her own urban community farm, “Tegan’s Hopeful Storybook Garden,” and empowers others to plant their own urban food gardens through her work as community farms coordinator for Kalamazoo Valley Community College Food Innovation Center. She has a vision for local urban farmers becoming a mainstay in Kalamazoo’s local food economy. At the convening, Harrington will lead the dialogue about “Building collective consciousness about what local foods can mean to us as a people.”

“If we can create a collective consciousness about what local foods can mean to us as a people … being really intentional about what we want to put in our bodies, biodynamic agriculture, eating seasonally and locally, that would create wellness, that would create health, that would create community, that would rebuild us as a people group,” stated Harrington in a December 2018 Second Wave Media feature. “That would bring peace and love and trust and that whole granola stuff. The case is good for business all around, not just for black folks, but for all of us.”

The work of Access of West Michigan’s Good Food Systems Initiative aims to address food access, health, and justice in our local food system. We believe that the values of a Good Food system create a thriving community for all. The collaborative solutions and programs that Access facilitates equip community partners, invest in our local food economy, grow health, and convene food and faith conversations.