Temporary seasonal workers face language, legal issues

Capital News Service
LANSING — The number of foreign seasonal farm workers pouring into Michigan and the legal and economic challenges they face are rapidly growing, say some legal and agricultural experts. The increase is the result of contractors bringing workers into the country under temporary visas called H2A visas. They are often referred to euphemistically as guest workers, said Tom Thornburg, co-managing attorney at Farmworker Legal Services, a Kalamazoo-based legal advocacy group for  agricultural workers. The number of these guest workers from other countries has doubled every year since 2012, he said. In 2015 they numbered 928.

Migrant workers’ housing still unsafe, civil rights official says

Capital News Service
LANSING – Five years after a report called migrant working conditions “intolerable,” Michigan is far from addressing its problems, the state’s civil rights director says. “The migrant farmworker situation in this state, my opinion, is not as good as it should be,” said Matt Wesaw, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Wesaw, who said he worked in the fields of Southwest Michigan alongside migrant workers as a boy 40 years ago, believes housing conditions for workers are worse now than they were then. “You look at the conditions today, you’ve got a lot of mobile homes that are no longer suitable for other families,” said Wesaw. “But they would be brought on to these farms, hooked up, and you would have multiple families, unrelated, multiple families, living in there.

Conditions still challenge migrant farmworkers

Capital News Service
LANSING – They work long, grueling hours in the blistering sun. Nearly half of the 90,000 migrant laborers in the state were under the age of 13 in 2010, according to the Department of Civil Rights. And the average migrant family makes between $12,255 and $16,773 a year, according to state estimates – far below the federal poverty line of $27,570 for a family of four. But they are the backbone of the state’s agricultural industry, traveling from Florida to Michigan and back again, year after year. They are migrant workers, And Marylou Olivarez-Mason used to be one of them.