Letters: Views on fake news, farm wages
Media partly to blame for fake news
While the term “fake news” has only recently become a meme, media bias has plagued Republicans and conservative organizations for decades. Media bias isn’t just reporting incorrect or outright false “facts”; it’s also using questionable sources to corroborate real stories.
For example, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a George Soros-funded, liberal-run, and Democrat-associated “watchdog” whose primary function is to file complaints against right-leaning individuals and organizations. To date, 98 percent of CREW’s IRS complaints have been filed against conservatives and 80 percent of House Ethics complaints targeted Republicans.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll from October found that less than 50 percent of Americans trust the press. If the media want to regain the public’s trust, they can start by actually calling a liberal a liberal.
Richard Berman, executive director, Center for Organizational Research and Education.
Small farm workers’ wages in jeopardy
Attorney General Bill Schuette’s recent formal opinion endorses the radical interpretation that Michigan’s minimum wage law (Workforce Opportunity Wage Act) exempts some “small farms” from paying their workers a minimum hourly wage. As Schuette’s opinion recognizes, “This construction of [the statutory provision] has the effect of leaving some employees without a right to a minimum hourly wage under the WOWA (or FLSA [the federal Fair Labor Standards Act]).”
When workers have no recognized legal right to a statutory minimum wage they have no effective remedy to compel an abusive employer to pay them any wage for their labor, let alone the minimum wage. Shocking as this may seem, wage theft is an all-too-common occurrence among harvest workers who toil for days in Michigan fields and orchards and, at the end of the week, are told that “there is no money” to pay them for their labor. In the past — since Michigan’s minimum wage law was first enacted in the mid-1960s — workers could complain to the state wage and hour agency which would intervene to obtain their unlawfully withheld pay. Following Schuette’s endorsement of the agency’s 2016 re-interpretation of Michigan’s minimum wage law, the most marginal farm workers have no effective administrative avenue to seek prompt payment of withheld wages. Indeed, they now have no state-recognized right to a minimum hourly wage at all.
The attorney general’s opinion ignored a decade of contrary interpretations and published policy of state and federal wage and hour agencies, legislative enactments intended to preserve these workers’ rights to the minimum wage, and even a federal court decision that interpreted a parallel provision of the same state minimum wage law that Schuette reviewed. The court’s reasoning confirmed that Michigan’s minimum wage statute was originally intended — and until 2016 had consistently been interpreted — to apply to employers who were not covered by the minimum wage requirements of the federal FLSA. The state’s wage law effectively filled gaps in federal coverage, ensuring a minimum wage to every worker for each hour worked. This safety net no longer exists for some farm workers whose employers meet the technical definition of a “small farm.”
Tom Thornburg, Berrien County
Former managing attorney
Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan