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The time is now: Full rights for farmworkers

Many farmworkers still lack bathrooms and clean drinking water in the fields.

Richard Iannuzzi's picture
May 13, 2016

Recent developments have shown some movement toward labor rights for farmworkers in New York State, but they fall far short of what farmworkers need to be treated fairly: equal treatment under New York State Labor Law.

The deal that shaped New York State’s 2016 budget brought the $15 minimum wage—albeit in drawn out stages and with different timelines regionally—to a reality in New York. After much protest, and over the efforts of the Republican majority to prevent it, farmworkers were eventually included in the minimum wage language. And just recently, when sued by the New York Civil Liberties Union over language that prevented farmworkers from exercising the right to collectively bargain, New York agree not to contest the lawsuit. As a result, Governor Cuomo denounced the federal language (dating back to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act) and admitted to a “flaw” in New York’s labor law. While both of these events are positive, they ignore the realities that farmworkers face every day.

Many farmworkers still lack bathrooms and clean drinking water in the fields. Most work an entire season without a day of rest, and for those working in year round farming industries a day of rest never comes. Overtime pay is non-existent for farmworkers as well as access to adequate healthcare. Without health insurance, time off to seek medical care and inadequate availability of health services, many farmworkers and their families face chronic illnesses where appropriate care may have made a difference. Most disturbing are accusations about the mistreatment of women in farming. 

Attempts to address these concerns have been met with retaliation and workers being harassed and fired.

Repeated attempts to pass a Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act have been blocked by the Republican Senate. New York’s 60000 farmworkers have the full support of the New York State AFL-CIO and an overwhelming number of religious and human rights organizations including The Rural Migrant Ministry and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. The opposition is led by the deep pockets of the Farm Bureau, which carries great favor with Republican lawmakers.

Enough is enough! This Sunday a march for Farmworkers Justice will begin in Smithtown at Senator Flanagan’s office. The March will continue for over two weeks and 200 miles ending in Albany on Farmworkers Justice Day, June 1st. The march is organized by Rural Migrant Ministries to call attention to the plight of farmworkers and the shameful failure of New York’s legislature to place the Farm Workers Fair Labor Practice Act on the Governor’s desk—setting the table for Governor Cuomo to protect those who work to make fresh food available for our tables.

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