ALBANY, NY – Advocates will rally in the state capitol today in support of legislation to extend basic labor protections to New York’s agricultural workers, who are excluded from the right to collective bargaining and overtime pay due to an 80-year-old law.
Hosted by the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign in New York, Farmworker Albany Day will bring together farmworkers, elected officials, advocates and supporters of the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (S2837/A2750), a bill to correct the longstanding exclusion.
“There’s an ugly racial history behind the exclusion of New York’s farmworkers, who are denied basic labor protections that other workers take for granted,” said M. Patricia Smith, senior counsel at the National Employment Law Project and former New York State Labor Commissioner. “New York must seize the chance to right this wrong and extend organizing rights and overtime pay protections to farmworkers.”
A new report from the National Employment Law Project details the discriminatory history behind the exclusion of agricultural workers and makes the case for ending it. Federal law gives states the power to extend collective bargaining rights to farmworkers, and 10 states have already done so, while four have applied overtime pay regulations to agriculture.
Farmworkers from across the state, disproportionately immigrants and people of color, perform labor that is crucial to food security for New Yorkers and is the foundation of the state’s multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry.
Despite this, farmworkers continue to be excluded from basic workplace rights and protections afforded by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
State lawmakers have long promised to close the loophole and extend protections to farmworkers but have not followed through.
“We cannot consider ourselves an enlightened society until all workers are treated equally, with dignity and respect. We should be embarrassed as New Yorkers, as citizens, and as human beings that in the year 2019, farmworkers, who perform demanding and dangerous work, still do not enjoy the same basic rights and protections as all other workers,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO. “The New York State AFL-CIO and our 2 .5 million members will not rest until this disgraceful injustice is rectified.”
Cilento, along with State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, will address the rally crowd today at Albany’s West Capitol Park. Speakers, supporters and farmworkers will demand that state senators and assembly members close out the legislative session by enacting the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (FFLPA).
“This year, New York has an historic opportunity to end one of the last vestiges of Jim Crow by removing the exclusion of farmworkers from our state labor laws,” said Lisa Zucker, legislative attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “For over 80 years, the basic rights afforded to virtually all other hourly worker in our state – like a day of rest, overtime pay, and collective bargaining – have been denied to agricultural workers. The time has come for New York to make good on its promise to be one of the most progressive and pro-labor states in the nation and pass the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act this legislative session.”
Advocates and grassroots organizers expect a possible vote on the FFLPA in June.
NELP’s M. Patricia Smith and Anastasia Christman, and Jose Chapa of the Justice for Farmworkers Coalition, are available to comment on this bill.