migrant workers

Migrant Legal Action Program

President Barack Obama's recent executive order on immigration could be a boost for Michigan's economy, according to a panel of experts convened by Michigan United, a coalition of faith, labor, business, social service, and civil rights members.

The order allows undocumented parents of children legally in the U.S. to apply for a temporary work permit, as long as they have resided in the U.S. for five years or more, undergo a criminal background check, and pay taxes.

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This week I’m bringing you segments from my documentary, Voices from the Fields," a story of migrant workers in Michigan.

The Senate passed an immigration bill this summer that allowed for a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented farm workers in the United States.

Some say if those people get legal status, they’ll have a chance to find better work. That’s exactly what happened to Gerardo Zamora. He would still be in the fields if it wasn’t for a little known immigration bill passed recently.

Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

This week I’m bringing you segments from my documentary, Voices from the Fields," a story of migrant workers in Michigan.

More than half of the roughly 2 million farm workers in the U.S. are undocumented.

Of those 2 million, 94,000 migrant workers and their families live and work in Michigan. And they have a lot at stake when it comes to U.S. immigration policy.

Back in June, the U.S. Senate passed an immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship for farm workers, but now the immigration debate lies in the hands of the U.S. House – which has its own ideas, and they’re very different from the Senate’s.

For one thing, the House plan does not include a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. Instead, it would expand the guest worker program

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From urban farming in Detroit, the Traverse City Cherry Festival, to farmers markets in hundreds of Michigan cities, this state prides itself on its agriculture.

And we should.

We are the most agriculturally diverse state, behind only California. And after manufacturing, agriculture is the state’s largest industry.

But when you see that Michigan seal on apples and blueberries and cherries in the grocery store, do you ever wonder who are the faces and voices behind these products?

In this documentary, we’ll hear from these farm workers that bring these fruits and vegetables to our tables.

We’ll hear about the struggle for fair wages, good housing and how the immigration debate can affect the lives of the 94,000 migrant workers and their families in Michigan.

Below is the full audio of the documentary

Bread for the World / flickr

This week, I’m posting segments from my documentary, "Voices from the Fields," a story of migrant workers in Michigan. It airs today on Stateside.

Migrant work is one of the only jobs available to undocumented workers in the U.S.

An estimated 50 to 70 percent of farm workers in the U.S. are undocumented, and this causes problems not only for the workers, but for employers too.

This week I’m bringing you segments from my documentary, “Voices from the Fields," a story of migrant workers in Michigan. It will air on Stateside on Wednesday.

When migrant workers travel to multiple states throughout a year, following the crops that are ready to harvest, they never really have a place to call home.

They can’t afford to pay for multiple apartments or houses to only live in a few months or weeks out of the year, and it’s hard to find hotels to stay in when you are traveling from state to state usually during peak tourism season.

That’s why farms that hire migrant workers often provide housing for very low prices, or even for free. But as the saying goes, sometimes you get what you pay for.

Chuck Grimmet / flickr

This week I’m bringing you segments from my documentary, “Voices from the Fields,” a story of migrant workers in Michigan. It will air Wednesday on Stateside.

Michigan is the nation’s largest producer of blueberries. But getting blueberries to our bowls means long tedious work for the people who pick them. And in some cases, workers complain that the pay is far too low.

When I was reporting for this documentary, I visited the Hamilton Family.

When I met up with them they were living in a broken down trailer behind an old flea market garage and a vacant parking lot cluttered with tall weeds in southwest Michigan.

Seven people were living in the trailer. One of them was Randy Hamilton Sr., the father of the family. They are white and are a minority in the fields. Hamtilon Sr. has been doing migrant work since he was in 8th grade. That's when he dropped out of school in order to make money picking in the fields.  

“There’s no other jobs for us that you’ve got a high school diploma, and we don’t have it,” he says.

The Hamilton’s were out of work and out of money.

They quit their job picking blueberries in southwest Michigan. That’s because they couldn’t keep up with the picking demands in order to make minimum wage.

courtesy photo

From urban farming in Detroit, the Traverse City Cherry Festival, to farmers markets in hundreds of Michigan cities, this state prides itself on its agriculture.

And we should.

We are the most agriculturally diverse state, behind only California. And after manufacturing, agriculture is the state’s largest industry.

But when you see that Michigan seal on apples and blueberries and cherries in the grocery store, do you ever wonder who are the faces and voices behind these products?

This week, we’ll hear from these farm workers that bring these fruits and vegetables to our tables.

We’ll hear about the struggle for fair wages, good housing and how the immigration debate can affect the lives of the 94,000 migrant workers and their families in Michigan.

This week, I will post segments from my documentary that will air Wednesday on Stateside.

It’s called “Voices from the fields: a story of migrant workers in Michigan.

Let’s start by introducing you to a migrant farm worker I met.

Michigan apple farmers desperate for pickers

Oct 5, 2013
MI Farm Bureau

The Michigan Farm Bureau is appealing across the eastern U.S. for help with finding workers to harvest the state's bumper crop of apples.

The organization sent "help wanted" postcards this week to more than 300 registered farm labor contractors, mostly in Florida and Georgia.

Migrant Legal Action Program

Ninety-thousand migrant workers and their families travel to Michigan each year to pick the state's fruit and vegetable crops.

Most travel from Texas and Florida to get here.  That's a long way.

State officials say those workers often have a choice about where they'll work in the summer - and it doesn't have to be Michigan. 

So keeping migrant housing decent and safe is crucial.

Craig Camp / flickr

Last year disaster struck Michigan farms throughout the state.

Early heat waves, low rainfall and a scorching summer resulted in non-existent crops and many worried farmers wondering what 2013 would bring.

Now, the Michigan agriculture industry may also face a shortage of migrant workers.  

If the crops come back this year, why wouldn't the labor return as well?

Michigan Radio's Cynthia Canty spoke with Craig Anderson, who manages the Agricultural Labor and Safety Services program for the Michigan Farm Bureau.

He was joined by David Smeltzer, the owner of Per Clin Orchards in Bear Lake.

Listen to the full interview above.

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed complaints against two Michigan farms for treating migrant workers inhumanely.

The department says migrant housing at Berrybrook Farms in Dowagiac was infested with rodents and insects, and workers didn't have access to refrigerators or hot running water.

Darryl Howes farms in Copemish  is accused of underpaying workers and providing unsanitary housing and toilets.

Calls to both companies were not returned.

Laura Elizabeth Pohl / Flickr

Governor Snyder wants to allocate $400,000 in next year's budget to hire three more inspectors to investigate living conditions of migrant farm workers. 

Alberto Flores is with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. He says that leaves only 8 inspectors to look at housing for the more than 90-thousand migrant workers that come to Michigan every year.

Andrew Malone / Flickr

It's never easy to get citizens to show up at a planning commission meeting, but in Port Sheldon Township they had a bigger turnout than normal because of concerns over migrant worker housing on a nearby blueberry farm.

Every week on What’s Working, we take a look at people and organizations that are changing lives in Michigan for the better. Mabel Rodriguez, the director of the Migrant Outreach Program at the University of Michigan, is helping the migrant community by bringing U of M students to the community to teach English.

Rodriguez says that due to long hours and a limited ability to travel, members of the migrant community can not attend ESL (English as a Second Language) classes.

Craig Camp / flickr

Sarah Alvarez-Michigan Radio Newsroom

The Michigan Farm Bureau is starting a six month series to educate farmers about laws that apply to migrant workers and youth labor. Michigan’s agriculture industry is dependent on migrant labor. The industry is still dealing with the effect of a harsh report on worker conditions by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Hannah Stevens is with Michigan State University Extension, one of the sponsors of the series.

In agriculture it’s complicated because there immigration issues there’s housing issue, you know, so many regulatory agencies that look closely at management of labor.  I think particularly it’s a sensitive topic.

Stevens says that pressure to comply with labor laws is also coming from retailers.

The retail stores, Meijer’s and Walmart’s and all these, are beginning to demand that there’s certain responsibility that growers have in terms of managing their workforce. They may reject Michigan produce if they don’t feel that’s being handled correctly. That may put growers in a very awkward position.

The farm bureau expects only about 25% of growers in the state will attend their seminars. The seminars will run from February to July.