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.