New Mexico’s farmworkers, who are among the lowest paid
workers in the US, will earn a few more dollars a week thanks to a couple of
attorneys who prodded the Department of Workforce Solutions into action.
As reported in the SFR in December farmworkers in southern
New Mexico, when paid hourly, were routinely paid $7.25, the federal minimum
wage. They should have been getting
the New Mexico minimum wage of $7.50 an hour. Tess Wilkes, an attorney at the New Mexico Center for Law and
Poverty in Albuquerque, found this to be pervasive.
“It wasn’t just a bad receipt or a rare case,” she says. An
investigation by this reporter confirmed Wilkes’ finding: Dozens of receipts
reviewed last year listed an hourly wage of $7.25.
Maria Martinez Sanchez, another attorney at NMCLP, informed
DWS that workers should be paid the higher minimum wage. The department's general council agreed, and earlier
this year sent a letter to all registered contratistas (labor contractors) in the state informing them that
farmworkers are to be paid the state minimum wage.
The increase isn’t much, but when you’re living on the edge,
as farmworkers are, every cent helps.
“It’s $2 more a day, so in six days it’s $12 and that’s good,” says Miguel
Silva, a 66-year-old farmworker.
“You can buy one, two days of lonche. Maybe three.”
DWS has informed contratistas
there will be random audits to ensure they’re paying the correct wage. Given that contratistas have proven to be adept at stealing workers’ wages,
DWS—and advocates—will need to be vigilant.
Read the letter from DWS
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