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, 2013Sen. 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."
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.
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.
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.