Pickers Grinnin'

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 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 the center, informed DWS that workers should be paid the higher minimum wage. The department's general counsel 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.

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