2015 Advocacy Examples

These are a few examples of the successes achieved for our clients.

Employment

  • In 2012, a farmworker called FLS regarding failure to receive pay, possible wrongful termination, housing concerns, and field safety concerns. FLS immediately conducted outreach at the migrant labor camp; investigated and documented violations; filed complaints with the Department of Labor, Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration; screened 48 potential clients; and ultimately filed a federal lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of 38 farmworker Plaintiffs against Pioneer (the employer), the farm labor contractor, and the owner of the housing.  The legal claims involved the Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Michigan Minimum Wage Law, and the Employee Right to Know Act.  On behalf of the 38 Plaintiffs, FLS successfully settled claims against all the defendants in 2015.  We settled AWPA claims against the owner of the housing for $20,000.  Our client then agreed to settle claims against the farm labor contractor for $20,000.  After a settlement conference, our clients agreed to settle with Pioneer for $150,000.  FLS co-counseled this case in federal court with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.  As a result of this litigation, the migrant labor camp is no longer in operation, the contractor is no longer a farm labor contractor, and the U.S. Department of Labor instigated a “corn detasseling initiative to deal with repeat MSPA and FLSA violations focusing on Pioneer and Monsanto detasseling crews.”
  • The client was a migrant farmworker from Texas who got fired by a Michigan dairy.  He, his wife, and their children lived in housing owned by the dairy, and the dairy told them to leave within 2 days.  We advised the client about their right to not be forcibly evicted, and we let the dairy know that they should not forcibly evict the family and that the dairy has a duty to issue the client his final paycheck regardless whether the family has moved out.  The family had time to move back to their home in Texas and the dairy issued the client's final paycheck for the full amount due.
  • FLS represented a migrant family from Texas (husband, wife, and three children). They were recruited in Texas by a farm labor contractor to do detasseling work in Michigan. They were unhappy that they did not receive the promised terms and conditions once they arrived in Michigan. FLS investigated their claims against the seed company and the contractor and determined that both were likely liable under the federal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. FLS initiated negotiations with the seed company and the clients agreed to a settlement of $500 paid to each client. 

Unemployment

  • A farmworker client was the victim of ID theft and the Unemployment Insurance Agency charged him with misrepresentation and restitution (over $15,000 total). The client had attempted to protest, but had originally protested late. FLS appealed on his behalf, presented evidence of his ID theft to the Agency and then represented him at a hearing with an administrative law judge.  The judge issued a favorable decision, noting that the client had previously and repeatedly submitted evidence of ID theft to the UIA. She found that he did not commit misrepresentation, and did not owe restitution. Separately, the Agency also determined that he had been overpaid benefits in a different benefit year because he didn't report income from an employer that he did not actually work for (due to the ID theft).  The Agency again charged him with misrepresentation along with restitution owed. FLS timely protested on his behalf and pointed to the judge's decision in the earlier case. The Agency then reversed its own decisions based on our protest.
  • The Unemployment Insurance Agency originally determined that our client was overpaid $1,122.00 for benefits received and that the client committed misrepresentation and therefore owed an additional $3,953 in fraud penalties.  We assisted the client in appealing the agency's decision. The Agency then dropped the misrepresentation claims and reduced the overpayment to $202.00, with which we agree.
  • FLS represented a client for the purpose of protesting and appealing the Unemployment Insurance Agency's findings that he owed a total of over $81,000 in restitution (due to quitting) and because the Agency determined that he committed fraud. After we appealed the decision, the Agency took the case back from the appeal system to review it again. Based on our previous protests and appeals and some additional fact finding, the Agency determined that the client had properly left his previous job to accept a full-time permanent position, and was therefore not ineligible for benefits and had not committed misrepresentation. No hearing was required, and the $81,000 restitution order was erased.

Housing

  • A migrant farmworker called FLS regarding being threatened with immediate eviction from a migrant camp and sanitation issues at the camp. We advised the client regarding her rights to remain in the housing. We sent her an eviction rights flyer via text message.  We also provided referrals to alternative housing and service providers. We spoke with the Sheriff's office on our client's behalf regarding her fear of eviction and the need to remain in the housing over the weekend. We filed a complaint on client's behalf with state enforcement agencies regarding the camp's conditions. The state conducted a same-day inspection.  The client was able to remain in the migrant camp until she found alternative housing. She moved out of the migrant camp the following week.  
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