The New York Civil Liberties Union joined farmworkers, human rights defenders, legislators, labor unions and faith leaders at an event in Albany today to press for passage of the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act, a bill that would grant farmworkers standard workplace protections.
Today’s advocate hearing took place a day after the Albany County Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by the NYCLU with the Workers’ Center of Central New York and the Worker Justice Center of New York that challenged a state law denying farmworkers the right to organize without fear of retaliation. The plaintiffs plan to appeal.
"The people who work long hours every day to produce the food on our tables deserve equal rights and protections, which have long been denied,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The struggle in the courts to secure rights for farmworkers will take a long time, and just yesterday we were handed a setback. That’s why New York needs the legislature to step up on behalf of all workers and all New Yorkers to fix this persistent and profound injustice.”
Today’s press conference, organized by the Justice for Farmworkers Legislative Campaign and Rural & Migrant Ministry, included statements from the bill’s sponsors as well as representatives of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the Hispanic Federation, NY AFL-CIO and RWDSU. The press conference preceded a human rights hearing which featured testimony from farmworkers about rights violations before a panel of human rights observers.
The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (S. 2721/ A. 4189)would reform a nearly ninety-year-old exclusion dating back to Jim Crow policies that exempted farmworkers from fundamental worker rights. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 migrant, seasonal, and dairy farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented, labor on farms in New York, playing an essential role in the state's agricultural economy. Yet farmworkers lack the most basic rights – the right to fair pay, a humane work schedule, safe working conditions, and the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining.
Farmworkers labor under precarious, and often very dangerous, work conditions. As a primarily immigrant group, farmworkers are especially vulnerable to wage theft, sexual assault and working conditions so unsafe that in the dairy industry alone, sixty nine farm fatalities were reported between 2006 and 2015. During a moment of national concern for the rights of women in the workplace to be free from sexual misconduct, the NYCLU today noted the lack of safeguards for women workers on New York’s farms.
“Women in the fields are among the most vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment,” said Lisa Zucker, who spoke at the hearing on behalf of the NYCLU. “Many workers risk their jobs, homes and ability to support their families if they speak out. Ensuring that farmworkers have basic workers’ rights is essential to addressing sexual assault and other forms of abuse facing farmworkers.”