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Bills would provide NY farm workers more rights

Kerry Kennedy, left, of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, speaking at a press event to announce the unveiling of the “Farmworker’s Bill of Rights,” sponsored by Sen. Adriano Espaillat, D-Manhattan, and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, D-Queens. Richard Iannuzzi, right, the president of New York State United Teachers union, also spoke at the event. Photo by Amanda Conto.
March 11, 2013
Sen. Adriano Espaillat, D-Manhattan, has introduced the Farmworker's Bill of Rights which he says would help end the "unfair" treatment of migrant farm workers in New York state.

The Senate bill (S.1743) and its Assembly counterpart (A.1792), sponsored by former chairwoman of the Assembly Labor Committee Catherine Nolan, D-Queens, would reform labor practices in farms throughout the state, sponsors said.

The Farmworker's Bill of Rights would grant collective bargaining for farm workers, require employers to allow at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week, limit work days to eight hours, provide a sanitary code to all farm and food processing labor camps that house migrant workers regardless of the number of occupants, and provide farm employees with workers compensation.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and an advocate for labor rights, was accompanied by Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, at a press conference in Albany last week to announce the legislation.

Kennedy, the ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, had been fasting for roughly 48 hours prior to the conference to demonstrate her support for farm workers in New York state.

Kennedy joked, "Last time I did a fast like this I had a partner who was doing it with me, which was Gov. Andrew Cuomo. So I'm happy that he has been a supporter of farmworkers rights for well over 25 years."

Sen. Adriano Espaillat is sponsoring a Farmworkers “Bill of Rights” which would give farm workers in New York the right to overtime pay, a day of rest and the right to collective bargaining. Photo by Amanda Conto.
Librada Paz, whose first name means "freed," is the recipient of the 2012 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, a council member of the western New York Rural and Migrant Ministry and a former farm worker.

Paz came to the United States at age 15 and worked as a migrant farm worker before attending the Rochester Institute of Technology and earning a degree in mechanical engineering technology.

"There are exemptions for farmworkers from the fair labor legislation in the state of New York and that has got to end. They don't have the right to workers comp, they have no right to a day off a week, they have no right to a whole slew of rights that every other worker has and we have got to amend that," said Kennedy.

Paz described a workday as a farmer during the harvest season saying that employees worked upwards of 14 hours a day with no overtime pay and very few breaks. Workdays were consecutive with no day allotted for rest.

Under the proposed bills, farmworkers would be allowed at least one day of rest from a full work week, overtime pay, and claim forms if they are injured while on the job.

"There is no excuse ... We don't want to hear them say we cannot afford it," said Paz. "Because how come all other businesses in New York state have those rights for there workers? How come farm workers cannot have those rights?"

Nolan, who is the current Education Committee chair, was appalled at the conditions the workers in New York's onion fields work under.

"When I became chair of the Labor Committee my good friends in the labor movements started to introduce me to some of the situations of worker in the onion fields of Orange County and it was very devastating," said Nolan. "... I couldn't believe that we allowed a sub minimum wage for 17-year-olds, that we didn't have drinking water or required sanitary services, that we don't have a day off, that we don't have a day of rest, that we don't allow collective bargaining. How can we say we're the Empire State and not allow collective bargaining for people working in the fields making the food that we eat?

Espaillat, the sponsor of the Senate bill is hopeful that the bill will pass in this session saying that "This is the moment." Espaillat urged people to question where their food comes from and how the workers are treated.

Espaillat went onto say that the problem of farm workers isn't just in California or in the south, but an "ugly problem" we have within the state.

A campaign to raise awareness of the working conditions of farm workers will be launched April 6.

  1. print email
    Lies and distortions of facts
    March 11, 2013 | 05:21 PM

    The amount of lies, distortions of facts and misinformation spread by the self-appointed farmworker advocacy agency RMM and its operatives never ceases to amaze or astound me.

    First, off, the law regarding workers compensation, farmworkers whose employer paid $1,200 or more for farm labor in the preceding calendar year (WCL §3 Group 14-b) are covered. This is the case for the overwhelming majority of farms in NYS. Why this false canard that they are not covered keeps getting repeated is beyond.

    Over a dozen, local, state and federal agencies oversee a plethora of laws that govern not only the working but also the living conditions of farmworkers in NYS. They are probably THE MOSt regulated and protected workforces in NYS.

    Regarding this law, it is about 5 or 6 exemptions to the federal labor law that matches federal labor laws. This is due to the unique nature of farm work, in that it is not done in a factory under a controlled or regulated situation.

    I have no problem defending each and every one of the exemptions within the real world context of agriculture’s production and marketing realities. But I can’t, because the self-appointed advocates’ mantra is that these exemptions are “immoral” and “unjust.” They state that “there can be no justification for this unequal treatment. Attempts at justification of this exclusion are offensive.” Who assigned these organizations the authority to decide which exemptions are “just?” And many of these same exemptions that apply to farmworkers, like overtime pay, also apply to the employees of nonprofits and religious organizations. Yes, the very same organizations that are pointing their fingers at agriculture can legally “exclude” their own workers from receiving overtime. State legislative staffers also are exempt. Yes, the people who work for the people who want to end our exemption are exempt from overtime. The level of hypocrisy is astounding and they don’t have a leg to stand on to play the “moral” card.

    finally, regarding the child labor wage situation, Nolan during Assembly floor debate over this bill back in 2009 tried to make an issue of it and raised it. When pressed, Nolan admitted that the state Labor Department had told her that a handful of people were paid this wage the previous season.

    And regarding the costs of this legislation, can the proponents of this legislation point to the economic impact study for the intended and unintended consequences of its enactment? They can't because it hasn't been done. It's the height of legislative irresponsibility that the sponsors have introduced it without doing any analysis.

    The upstate economy is reeling and the one aspect of it that is even remotely functioning is agriculture, and they want to pass a bill that could seriously derail it?

    When Rev. Witt marches on Albany to end the overtime exemption he and his cronies in the highly hypocritical "Amen Industry" then I will even remotely take him seriously. Until then, he can take a hike.

    Chris Pawelski
  2. print email
    librada paz
    May 27, 2013 | 09:17 AM

    she is not anymore a farmworker.
    she used to be a long time, long time ago a farmworker. She now sales anway products.
    Her presence in the fields is just minimum AND OCASIONALLY ONLY TO RECRUIT FARMWORKERS TO GO TO ALBANY

    Maria Fuerte
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